Provincial and territorial energy efficiency programs are failing to reach the 20% of Canadians who are struggling to cover their home energy costs, but federal investment can stop those households from being left behind in the push for net-zero emissions, Efficiency Canada says in a new report.
The report cites a number of common gaps that limit low-income households’ access to energy efficiency programs, further entrenching their energy poverty and preventing the country as a whole from meeting net-zero targets.
So far, the most successful energy efficiency programs targeted at low-income households reach about 3% of eligible customers, Efficiency Canada says.
The gaps are not necessarily the result of deficiencies in the way programs have been implemented, the report concludes, but are “primarily related to policy objectives of provincial governance systems.”
Currently, very few provincial energy efficiency programs target households that are the most vulnerable to energy poverty—those whose energy bills consume a high percentage of household income or who live in the least energy-efficient homes, and households experiencing language barriers or difficulties navigating support systems. Reaching homes with the highest energy burden, expanding into multilingual and multicultural communities, and tailoring communications to senior citizens can extend programs to those hard-to-reach communities, the report suggests.
One way provincial programs can try to avoid increasing energy cost burdens is with incentives for highly efficient heating systems that can reduce home heating bills, like heat pumps and other efficiency measures. However, only two programs in the review included an option to switch from fossil fuel heating to heat pumps as “a standard and accepted measure.”
Many programs also fail to consider non-energy barriers, or to fund non-energy upgrades that can also prevent low-income households from meeting energy efficiency goals. Households that have structural deficiencies, require major renovation, or otherwise require remediation to be deemed “suitable and safe” are often ineligible for most energy efficiency programs.
“In the ‘ability to pay’ market, energy efficiency programs expect homeowners to finance and manage issues such as mold and structural reinforcements before receiving energy upgrades,” writes Efficiency Canada, adding that the financing barriers that prevent low-income Canadians from funding energy efficiency upgrades also apply to those mandatory upgrades that aren’t directly related to energy.
The report says the federal government can help provinces and territories achieve energy efficiency goals by scaling up successful elements of existing programs and focusing investments towards low-income energy planning.
“Existing provincial programs are focused on shallower energy savings because of how they are governed,” said report co-author and Efficiency Canada Research Associate Abhilash Kantamneni. “The federal government can leverage their outreach capabilities to retrofit homes to meet net-zero emissions standards and bring Canadians out of energy poverty.”