How the clean energy transition can alleviate energy poverty: the COMACT project in Bulgaria


Energy poverty is still a problem in Bulgaria when it comes to promoting energy-efficient solutions for the building sector, much like many other nations in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region and the former Soviet Union republics (CIS region). Even though some indicators improved in the 2010s, such as households' ability to keep houses warm enough, many homes still struggle to pay energy bills or to reach certain living conditions[1].

A combination of high energy costs and inadequately energy-efficient buildings, heating systems, and home appliances contributes to the widespread energy poverty in the CEE and CIS region. Most of the reasons for this date back to the changes that occurred after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when mass privatization in the 1990s drove the majority of low-income residents to reside in prefabricated apartment buildings with shared ownership in residential districts outside of the cities and the socialist-era subsidies were removed. Indeed, these peculiar neighbourhood structures in the area, in which multifamily residential buildings are widespread, hindered previous attempts to improve the situation, which requires collaboration amongst the apartment owners.

A new strategy to address the multifaceted causes of energy poverty is required. Such an approach should address the multidimensional causes of energy poverty through, among other tactics, making renovations less expensive and increasing the buildings' energy efficiency.

Although Bulgaria has recently made related efforts, particularly by establishing higher targets for building energy efficiency in its national energy and climate plan (NECP), there are still specific challenges regarding measures application. For instance, even if the existing National Energy Efficiency Plan for Multifamily Residential Buildings (NPEEMZhS) is being fully funded by the government and supported by it in administrative terms, it fails to address this issue effectively, as it does not differentiate between municipalities with different characteristics and types of multifamily residential buildings in Bulgaria[2]. However, it is well known that the factors influencing the effectiveness of the measures and programmes to overcome (energy) poverty are numerous; therefore, policymakers should make an effort to propose comprehensive actions.

Against this background, the Community Tailored Actions for Energy Poverty Mitigation in the CEE and CIS region (ComAct) project seeks to address the urgent need to improve the living conditions of many Bulgarian households in a more holistic manner taking into account three dimensions: stakeholders and communities, financial, technical. ComAct has been testing its innovative approach for alleviating energy poverty in five pilots CEE countries, including Bulgaria.

First, the project conducted a novel analysis of energy poverty in the CEC and CIS region. This was necessary as the multiple dimensions of energy poverty imply that measuring them by different indicators reveals different factors behind it and highlights somewhat different groups suffering from it. Thus, the project started with a fresh new analysis of energy poverty, aiming to show how it becomes apparent in an urban multifamily building context and how it influences potential renovation processes. Building upon a household survey conducted in the autumn of 2021 with 1,025 respondents in the five ComAct pilot sites, their findings are summarised in the "Guidebook on the concept of energy poverty and its relevance in the five pilot countries[3].

As a part of ComAct, a Toolbox of financing models, allowing citizens to browse among the different financing sources for each country and an e-learning platform were set up. Alongside this, several reports which contribute to the knowledge-sharing objective of the project were already published.

Departing from this basis, the ComAct project will renovate four multifamily residential buildings in the cities of Burgas and Gabrovo in Bulgaria. With the collaboration with the City of Burgas and the Center for Energy Efficiency EnEffect, the project will carry on a series of actions, including the establishment of an Energy Advice Resource Centre to stimulate community action in various homeowner associations (HOA) and design and test financial instruments to lift barriers to access to financing for energy poor households. The final aim is to train local experts and empower local communities to make impactful energy-efficient improvements in multifamily apartment buildings affordable and manageable for energy-poor communities as well as to create the necessary assistance conditions for lifting them out of energy poverty.


[1] According to the most recent (2020) data from the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), 22.2% of households are in arrears on their energy bills, and 27.5% of households struggle to keep their houses warm enough.