The DoppelPlus initiative was launched in 2016, as a part of the EU LIFE Project and of the Climate and Energy strategy for Austria, and managed to become a LIFE citizen prize finalist in 2022.
1. What is the DoppelPlus project
A Tyrolean initiative : contextual elements
The context in which it was implemented has two specificities. First, the DoppelPlus project is closely linked to the matter of poverty in Austria, and more specifically the Tyrol region. Indeed, around a million people in Austria are threatened or affected by poverty. In Tyrol, this number rises to 100,000 people at risk of poverty, implying an at-risk-of-poverty rate of 13.9% in the region. This phenomena feeds into the energy poverty issue: among the million people in Austria threatened by poverty, around 300,000 people are affected by so-called energy poverty, who spend around 23 % of their monthly budget on energy. In the Tyrol region, energy poverty affects around 10,000 households. Secondly, the Tyrol region is a very specific one in terms of geographical location and topography. It includes 81 protected areas, which occupy more than a quarter of the region’s territory. This dimension has to be taken into account as it partly explains the fact that the initiative was strongly supported by the State of Tyrol, as a major contribution to the Austrian and Tyrolean climate targets for becoming fossil fuel free and for CO2 reductions by 2050.
Targeting low-income households to reduce energy poverty : the concept and the means
In this Tyrolean context, the DoppelPlus solution is focused on targeting low-income households. The core goal of the project is to create a “win-win situation for the environment and household budget”, meaning that the objective is to help private households save both energy and money. Acting on both climate protection and social issues is the major specificity of DoppelPlus. After having led a field analysis to get useful knowledge about the living conditions and special needs to be fulfilled in low-income households throughout the region, DoppelPlus was developed through three main means.
First, the project team developed a full program of free energy and climate coaching sessions at home – or on-line during the pandemic – for low-income households, which has constituted the heart of the initiative. The aim of those advising sessions was to raise awareness among those families to use energy more consciously and prudently. At-home coaching sessions were delivered by a network of volunteer coaches, who would understand the individual situation of each household and give very specific and understandable advice. Those coaches were trained through a basic course specially developed by experts from partner organizations. In practice, the coaching program consisted, after a phone appointment, in a 1.5-hour energy and climate coaching session, including a general presentation of the project, an inspection of the apartment, specific advice depending on the inspection, and the providing of a toolkit. In some cases, special consultations with professional energy consultants were organized to get a more expert view on complex situations. The second strength of the program was the providing of toolkits to reduce energy consumption. For example, coaches could proceed in exchanging a light bulb for an LED, putting temperature and humidity measuring devices, or items to save water.
The third DopplePlus pillar was networking, exchange and cooperation with various stakeholders. These networking and cooperation activities were designed with the aim to reach the target group of low-income households and create social and intercultural competences. They consisted mostly of meetings with representatives of social institutions, or housing cooperatives, energy supply companies but also with the target group directly. For example, DopplePlus developed workshop offers in refugee homes – in foreign languages, about sustainable consumption or energy saving measures – , cooperation with cities, cooperation with housing allocation offices, discussions with political decision-makers and aid organizations…
Adapting to an evolving context
The DopplePlus project also managed to evolve through time, adapting to the Covid-19 crisis, the refugee crisis, and to its own success. Additional offers were designed, such as sustainable job creation, energy diaries for residents to document their energy consumption, seasonal calendar, bicycle workshops, cookbooks, online coaching… All those evolutions still aimed at getting to work as closely as possible with low-income households to improve their everyday life while protecting the environment and reducing their bills.
2. European Union involvement in the project
Let’s now analyze the role played by the EU in this project. The DoppelPlus project is part of the LIFE Program, launched by the EU in 1992, which is a fund for the financing of its environmental policy. The issue of financing the ecological transition is a crucial challenge, as it often involves significant costs that local authorities sometimes have difficulty to afford. Moreover, for private actors, it is in many cases not attractive enough. Thus, the EU has a major role to play in financing this transition. The LIFE Program is a bottom-up approach, that is to say that it is the project leaders who must develop their project and apply for funding from the LIFE fund.
As the DoppelPlus project obtained funding, the EU allowed 596 000 euros for the 4 first years – knowing that the total budget was 996 000 € – and thus contributed to finance 56% of the total budget.
EU legal basis
The legal basis of this project is based both on the Regulation No 1293/2013 also called “Life Regulation” which has allowed more generally all projects of the LIFE Program during the period 2014-2020 to come into being, as well as the Commission implementing Decision (2014/203/EU).
According to the European Commission, the DoppelPlus project was part of its strategy explained in a Communication from 2011 called “A Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050”, and which aimed to present to the other European institutions an ambitious plan. It gave key elements for the EU to become a competitive low carbon economy by 2050. The approach was based on the view that innovative solutions were required to mobilize investments in energy, transport, industry and information and communication technologies, and that more focus was needed on energy efficiency policies. In this Communication, the Commission gave the objective to cut CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 (in comparison with 1990).
Although The DoppelPlus project preceded the European Green Deal, it is in total coherence with its strategy and its objectives. As a reminder, the Green deal aims to manage the ecological transition without increasing social and economic inequalities, and it is precisely the challenge of this project to have positive effects both for the environment and for families that saw their energy bill decreasing.
3. What are the outcomes of the DoppelPlus Plan?
The project made important contributions to the energy and climate strategy TIROL 2050 energy autonomy. It carried out around 806 standard household coaching sessions and 86 special consultations. In total, 15800 people were reached by the project. Regarding environmental benefits, the DoppelPlus initiative led to total savings per household of the equivalent of 2.091 kWh per year. The total savings of the whole project is 2,071,573 kWh or 637 tons of CO2-eq. According to the report, the trainings of ninety-one people to become coach in the project contributed to the rise of overall awareness (through the digital content, workshops, courses, household advices) and the rise of quality of life thanks to new positive effects (in terms of reduction in greenhouse gasses, noise pollution and other pollutant emissions). On the economic side, the benefits are observable through the higher qualification in the local labor market for the people that followed the training and the direct positive financial effects on those households that received a DoppelPlus coaching: calculations have shown that the savings of a DoppelPlus household are on average around 9 % of their energy expenditures which corresponds more or less to € 209 per year. Regarding the social benefits, the project helped marginalized or disadvantaged people to better integrate the local community. Migrants and refugees initially represented the bigger share of the people benefiting the project. Moreover, thanks to the DoppelPlus program, the living environment seems to have become healthier and more environmentally friendly.
Difficulty to assess the real efficiency of the project
Nevertheless, it is important to highlight the difficulty to assess the real efficiency and added value of the DopplePlus project. First of all, the results are mainly based on one survey: “The results of the survey with participants of the household advice show that…”. It underlines the lack of information to demonstrate the project efficiency. For example, the employability of the coaches after their training is mentioned by taking the example of one volunteer that found a job within the same sector after the project: “this is not just theory is shown by the example of the one volunteer who was employed by a housing company after completing the DoppelPlus training”. Moreover, many parts of the report remains tenuous and blurry. We can mention the following sentence: “The DoppelPlus project gives the volunteers the opportunity to make new contacts which can also be helpful in other contexts of their personal life”. How is this parameter actually assessed? This vagueness only allows to highlight the positive sides of the project with assumptions that are not easy to verify. Also, we do not have information about possible feedback the citizens or the coaches could have made. On another note, we need to keep in mind that the project targeted low households in order to allow them to save money. However, we do not have data to check if it is still the case. Since the project is open to every Tyrolean household, the project could tend to attract more people who already have the financial means to avoid energy poverty and the social status to be well integrated into the society than people that are actually in need. Some food for thought should be implemented in order to see what are the controls established on such a project by the different actors.
Still, a visible positive appreciation of the project
However, even if we cannot measure its impact precisely, it seems there was an overall positive appreciation of the project. The program partners in Tyrol “have defined a sustainable strategy for the period after the EU LIFE funding”. The result of this discussion is DoppelPlus’ ‘After-LIFE Plan’ for the period after the end of the project in April 2021. The follow-up project, named DoppelPlus 2.0, aims to continue to contribute to the TIROL 2050 energieautonomy, it is fully financed by the State of Tyrol and, it is managed by three project partners:
Secondly, the project inspired other organizations such as the city of Innsbruck with its pilot project “Einzugsbegleitung XL” and the Organization SOS Children’s Villages Austria that is thinking to implement a similar project with a supervised housing program. Lastly, the DoppelPlus plan is still running and remains active at the local level. We can notably observe that through the Facebook Page. The last session of training for future coaches started on November 5th and they were invited in a local media to introduce themselves on October 4th.
4. Main takeaways
Positive externalities on other stakeholders
DoppelPlus has adopted an approach based on dialogue, collaborative effort and cooperation. They organized consultations to identify potential benefits for other stakeholders. Their consultations showed that the offers and services of the project create positive externalities that are necessary and required for different points of view.
Thus, Energy suppliers, Municipalities and local authorities, Social organizations and social counseling institutions, Local transport organizations, Housing companies all benefit from reduction of cost, better communication with the users and enhanced competitiveness.
What this project truly shows is that it helps identify key ways of designing public policy, involving relevant stakeholders.
Could this project be scaled up to EU level ?
We can now ask ourselves to which extent could the Doppelplus project be scaled up to a European level. Many aspects of the project would be relevant to be reused at EU level.
Firstly, this project acts as a very effective awareness campaign by targeting a precise group of people and adapting key concepts to their daily lives so that they can adopt rather easily new behaviors that answer their needs.
This seems way more effective, because it is concrete, adaptable and accessible, compared to a general advertising campaign in the media like the French government’s “sobriété énergétique” strategy. As you go up in scale, here only from local to national level, concepts have to be more broad and therefore become more vague. The slogan “Je baisse, j’éteins, je décale” (decrease, turn off, shift) acts as a new credo, really simple to understand, but also less impactful.
DoppelPlus targets low income people as energy consumption has a direct impact on their available resources. It creates a win-win situation, yes, but also helps to target consumers who are “less likely to be able to quickly adapt their energy consumption patterns”. According to the European Economic and Social Committee those consumers “should be consulted and involved at all levels. It is critical to incorporate their experiences and behavioral attitudes into the design and implementation of measures.”
Therefore, the EU could become a producer of key instructions and best practice scenarios but only local action could make these informations relevant and impactful to final energy consumers. Indeed, this project’s success highlights the importance of coordination between the EU and local authorities to adapt public policies to the concrete reality of people’s everyday life. The EESC opinion on “Tackling energy poverty and the EU’s resilience” claimed for better cooperation on this subject : “Towns, cities and regions are often best placed to identify those households at risk of energy poverty at an early stage, and thus best placed to tackle it in the most effective way. Local and national businesses can also be important actors, together with national and local authorities (including municipalities and municipal services), in activities aimed at reducing energy poverty, including by contributing to the Renovation Wave.”
What is left to accomplish
More than anything this LIFE project stresses what is still left to achieve to make sure the energy transition happens and is fair for all.
DoppelPlus stresses the importance of giving energy poverty a clear definition at EU level. Today, depending on the definition used 50 to 170 million people are in a situation of energy poverty in Europe.
The definition used by DopplePlus :
“Households with incomes below the poverty line are considered to be in energy poverty
and either :
Households whose income is above the at-risk-of-poverty threshold but which, because of higher than average energy costs, are living below the poverty line and cannot afford a minimum standard of living in other areas. It therefore includes all households that are cut off from energy supply or unable to afford an average energy consumption.”
This definition is inclusive and particularly relevant to the current energy crisis. Indeed, more and more households are unable to afford sufficient energy given the rise of prices due to the war in Ukraine.
Moreover, DoppelPlus calls for complementary energy policies at EU level. Austria has 70% of its energy produced by renewables, an exception within the EU. Renewable energy is still a priority to be developed at EU level. Recently, EU objectives have been increased to 45% of renewables by 2030 in the RePowerEu directive. Such policies aim to assure energy sovereignty, affordable costs of energy and preservation of the environment. Also, DoppelPlus stresses the importance of energy efficiency in housing, especially as households in energy poverty situations are more likely to live in non energy efficient buildings because they are at first more affordable.
To conclude, the DoppelPlus project is an effective awareness campaign because it creates a win-win situation targeting low-income households. Their approach is cross-thematic and interdisciplinary. It also is based on close collaboration between various stakeholders and creates various positive externalities for those groups. It is therefore a smart investment for the EU that can take away a lot of advantages and knowledge from this local experiment.
Discussion with the class : If DoppelPlus should come to your region how would you adapt it ?
During our discussion with the class we talked about the transferability of the project in another region and especially the acceptability of a project targeting low income households. It appears that in a country like France, such targeting could be heavily criticized and result in a failure to convince people to change their behavior. We also asked ourselves whether it is fair to target people already making an effort. Finally, we discovered that similar projects exist in other regions, like in the Netherlands but with the particularity of not having a specific target group.
 LIFE – DoppelPlus, Final Report, july 2021 https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/life/publicWebsite/index.cfm?fuseaction=search.dspPage&n_proj_id=5674
 EESC, Opinion “Tackling energy poverty and the EU’s resilience” 2022
 DoppelPlus “Grundlagen für Entscheidungsträger zur Vermeidung von Energiearmut in Tirol”, may 2019