Technology and innovation

Subscription to combat energy poverty

Papillon helps people with low incomes to have access to energy-efficient household appliances. In exchange for a monthly fee, they can rely on lower energy bills and free repairs for 10 years. At the end of this period, the manufacturer of these appliances, Bosch, will collect them for refurbishment or recycling.

Papillon is the brainchild of Stefan Goemaere, Community Worker at SAAMO West-Vlaanderen, a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping the most vulnerable. For his work, he regularly visits people living in energy poverty. He has found that many of them have been put in this situation due to a combination of energy-guzzling appliances and high energy costs.

“I remember a family with a refrigerator that no longer closed properly,” says Goemaere. “That cost them hundreds of euros on their energy bills. But they were in debt counselling, so they could not replace the fridge until all their debts were paid off. While, in fact, buying a more energy-efficient appliance would have given them greater financial breathing space. We also work, for example, with an elderly man who cannot afford to buy a washing machine. So, he has to drag bags of laundry to the laundrette each time he needs to wash them. This costs him time, effort, and 30 euros a month. He now rents a washing machine for 7.5 euros.”

Household appliances as-a-service

Papillon has partnered with Bosch to offer appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, washing machines and dryers in an as-a-service model. The users pay a monthly fee for an energy-efficient appliance, including delivery, instructions for use and any repairs needed. As a rule, this contract lasts ten years. After the contract expires, Bosch collects the appliance free of charge and has it recycled or refurbished at Liège-based Electro SOFIE.

“With this formula, we are contributing to the three main elements of the circular economy,” explains Bruno Vermoesen, Sustainability Officer at BSH Home Appliances Group and Chairman of the Board of Recupel. “We reduce the use of primary raw materials, extend the service life of appliances, and close the material cycle. And we can do this because we remain the owner of the appliance, and therefore have insight into every stage of the its life. As a result, we avoid the disappearance of appliances from the cycle, which unfortunately still happens in many instances.”

“We extend the life of the devices by including repairs in the contract and by refurbishing them at its end. And since the appliances return to us, we also learn a lot about how they are used, for example which parts are subjected to the most stress. This allows us to design new models that are easier to repair and that last longer. Once the appliances have truly reached the end of their usable lives, we can still recover parts from them to repair other devices. We integrate the remaining materials into our own production processes or make them available to other manufacturers. In this way, we close the cycle and limit the use of primary raw materials.”

Ten years worry-free

In 2018, Papillon’s project started with 129 devices, but the formula proved so successful that Papillon signed a new contract with Bosch for another 550 appliances. “We are now talking to various municipalities and OCMWs - a public institution which provides social assistance - so we can rent out those extra devices to the right people,” says Goemaere. “This concerns people who qualify for the free energy survey or those who are at imminent risk of being disconnected from their energy supply. As this involves a priority target group of the Flemish government, from this year onwards, Flanders will make a contribution to the rental price. SAAMO provides the operating funds, together with the municipalities, OCMWs and a private investor.”

“In principle, people who receive this help pay a little more than the purchase price over the entire duration of the contract. But with the money they save on their energy and water bills, they save more money than they would using a less efficient device. And maintenance and collection are included. This is important, because for people who live in poverty, unexpected expenses really are an enormous source of stress. Now, they are worry-free for ten years.”

Anne Colette, who rents a refrigerator, a small freezer and a washing machine through Papillon, agrees. “I was given a social flat,” she says. “But there was nothing in it, and I couldn’t afford to buy new appliances. Now I have everything I need, and I can rest assured. If something breaks down, I just need to call. The people at Papillon have also taught me a lot about how to save energy. They still contact me regularly, for example to measure my energy consumption. I wish them the best of luck, because this is a very positive project!”