Energy is used inefficiently in the Republic of North Macedonia. So much so that energy use is three to four times higher than on average in EU Member States. This is due to outdated energy infrastructure and unsupported equipment that is often neglected, especially in residential buildings. Collective residential buildings make up a big chunk of the energy consumption from buildings and are usually highly energy inefficient.

However, the potential for energy savings from buildings is huge: between 30-70%. North Macedonia has already made significant advances over the last few years, in creating targets for energy efficiency improvements. This will go a long way to reducing emissions and cutting other pollutants in the atmosphere, which is a long-standing problem in our cities.

Funding home renovation is good…but on its own it’s not enough

But there is more work to be done: cutting emissions from buildings will of course require money. The country will need a minimum of €1.5bn to improve the energy efficiency of existing residential, commercial and public buildings by 2040. Given the economic situation in the country and its impact on households’ budgets, consumers can only make such investments with financial support.

The most popular government funding scheme for consumers is the Programme for Promotion of Renewable Energy Sources and Encouragement of Energy Efficiency in Households. For 2021, funding amounts to approximately €850,000, enough to finance 800 solar heating systems, 1,000 window replacements, 700 pellet boilers and 130 solar electrical systems.

However, consumers still lack a trustworthy, single point of contact. Consumers must find the right materials, devices and installers and have no guarantee that the subsidy will serve its purpose of improving the thermal performance of their home. Another issue is that consumer awareness about energy efficiency and the cost benefits of home renovation remains low.

Government communication about the subsidies towards consumers is lacking. To improve matters, consumer organisations should serve as a contact point to advise, educate and provide support to consumers via a dedicated one-stop shop service.

Helping consumers to take the next step

Such one-stop shops should be there to help consumers throughout the whole home renovation journey.

one stop-shopConsumer organisations are the ideal organisations to play this role. The Consumers’ Organisation of Macedonia (COM), for example, should become a contact point for advice and support to consumers to help them make energy efficiency improvements to their home. COM is perfectly placed to offer these services in North Macedonia, and we have already demonstrated our ability to do that.

This ‘one-stop-shop’ should give cost-comparison information on different products such as insulation materials, windows and roofs or solar water heaters and photovoltaic systems. It should be a place to inform consumers of the best offer according to their needs and finances or how to make price or quality comparisons.

To improve consumer confidence in the market, ensure fair competition and prevent unfair market practices, this one-stop-shop would develop a certification scheme for companies working in the building industry. Those companies – certified by COM – would be placed on a list of recognised suppliers. What’s more, training on matters such as legal issues or how to resolve disputes amicably with consumers would be offered.

These certification tools exist already, they just need integrating into a one-stop shop service. Working with partner organisations, for example, COM has already developed a certification scheme for companies and a platform listing the certified companies. We have also been working on a regional certification scheme – and complaints-handling mechanism – with other consumer organisations in North Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro.

Consumer organisations in Europe need to be more involved in designing consumer-friendly processes to quality check the retrofit service. This will ensure that certified companies are kept accountable and that the process is clear for consumers in case of liability.

In conclusion, home renovation can be a daunting prospect, but providing the right support to consumers can help them to take that next step. One-stop shop services can accompany consumers throughout the home renovation process. Consumer organisations are perfectly placed to play this role and, in many cases, already have the tools and expertise to do this and stand ready to help consumers take the plunge.

Posted by Sanja Popovska-Vasilevska and Marijana Lonchar-Velkova