The prices for electricity and heat have risen sharply recently. This puts pressure on low-income households in particular, as they have less financial leeway to deal with the high prices. In many cases, the obvious savings options have already been exhausted. At the same time, worthwhile investments in energy-efficient household appliances, such as a new refrigerator, usually cannot be made without additional financial support. However, support programmes to increase energy efficiency in low-income households should not only focus on purely financial support, but combine the offer with targeted behavioural incentives to achieve the greatest possible success. This is the result of a recent ZEW policy brief by ZEW Mannheim and Heidelberg University, which is based on an empirical analysis of the “Energy-Saving Check”, a joint initiative of the German Caritas Association and the Bundesverband der Energie- und Klimaschutzagenturen.

Graph showing the effect of the voucher rate on the success rate.
The ZEW policy brief by ZEW Mannheim and Heidelberg University, based on an empirical analysis of the “Energy-Saving Check”, shows that specific support programmes need to be enhanced.

“An energy policy that seeks to take the circumstances of low-income households into account should enhance its support programmes by including targeted behavioural incentives. This is a central result of our analysis,” says Professor Martin Kesternich, deputy head of ZEW’s Research Department “Environmental and Climate Economics”. An analysis of 37,000 household decisions made within the framework of the “Energy-Saving Check” shows whether and to what extent such support programmes contribute to higher energy efficiency in low-income households. A key element is the replacement of refrigerators – a factor that should not be underestimated, since refrigerators and freezers account for about a quarter of electricity consumption in German households. Switching to an efficient refrigerator is worthwhile because low-income households tend to own older appliances. On average, these consume 494 kWh, more than twice as much electricity as a new appliance with 152 kWh. “An old refrigerator can cause significant permanent costs, especially for low-income households. If they can afford to replace the appliance, the investment will pay off in most cases after only three years,” says Bettina Chlond, an environmental economist at ZEW Mannheim and co-author of the study. At an average electricity price of 28.8 ct/kWh and an average reduction of 342 kWh, a household can save about 98 euros per year by replacing its appliances.

Increasing the success of support programmes through behavioural incentives

Figure shows the effect of the voucher time limit on the success rate.
The study shows that individual supplemental programs can increase the outcome by up to 45 percent and further nearly 20,000 inefficient refrigerators of low-income households could be replaced.

This is where the “Energy-Saving Check” comes into play. Following a home energy audit, eligible households with particularly inefficient old appliances receive a voucher that they can redeem after purchasing a new appliance. On average, households can cover 35 per cent of the purchase price through the voucher of the nationwide programme; through supplementary programmes of the federal states, this share can increase to up to 45 per cent. The programme is showing positive results: between 2014 and 2020, 19,300 inefficient refrigerators were replaced in low-income households.

The empirical analysis shows that changes in both financial and behavioural incentives have an impact on the success rate of the support programme. Reducing the voucher value from 150 to 100 euros lowers the share of refrigerators replaced by nine to 16 percentage points, depending on how much time has passed since the programme was changed. At the same time, a stricter rule to redeem the voucher within two months increases the success rate by four to ten percentage points compared to a programme variant where the voucher doesn’t expire. “The success of programmes can be measurably increased through behavioural incentives without incurring additional costs,” says Professor Timo Goeschl, ZEW Research Associate and co-author.



    Energy Transition and Climate Change

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