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Heating project to reduce energy poverty in Told, Hungary

A Hungarian Roma village overcomes energy poverty

Affected population 306
By Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung Brussels Office


The example of Told shows how ideas to reduce energy poverty imported from the Global South are also helpful on the European continent. The project integrates the three pillars of sustainability—social, economic and ecological—in a commendable fashion and, additionally and implicitly, tackles ethnic stigmatisation. It is an encouraging example, because minimal efforts have led to measurable improvements.


In 2012, 23% of Hungarians heated their homes with wood, a fact mainly owed to rising gas prices.[1] Analysts assume that a large percentage—possibly 50%—of the wood sold in Hungary is logged illegally, which by far over stretches the reproductive capacities of the woods. [2]

The Roma village of Told offers a possible solution to Hungary’s heating problem. As a socially marginalised group in Hungary, the Roma have even less access to combustible materials for heating than ethnic Hungarians. Frequently, Told residents used to heat their precariously insulated houses in a makeshift fashion by burning waste, i.e. car tyres and plastic. Occasionally wood taken secretly from the forests was also burned. In the past, the Roma were able to get the wood they needed legally, but the gradual process of privatisation has closed off their access to forest firewood.

Simple technology for heating

In autumn 2012, the engineer Nóra Feldmár and the Real Pearl Foundation offered a cheap solution to this problem for a budget of only 2,690 EUR. She made use of a technology from the Global South, biomass briquettes. Producing these briquettes is pretty much a straightforward process. Available biomass is shredded—or sourced pre-shredded from farmers—and mixed with soaked wastepaper as a binder. This mush is stirred, poured into moulds and pressed, thereby eliminating a large part of the water again. Using a car jack, Told residents built a small machine capable of simultaneously pressing several of these briquettes. Then the briquettes are left to dry for ten to fifteen days in the sun or in a drying house. After several attempts, it became clear that the waste from farmers in the region was suitable to be used in this way. Until 2012, farmers had dumped bran, husk and stubbles illegally in a stone quarry. Now they are happy to be able to rid themselves of this waste completely legally. Wastepaper, the binder, was also provided for free of charge. The mayor of the municipality to which Told belongs helped to get the materials together. Because the impulse came from outside, the town hall was more than happy to use this opportunity to help the Roma. What is more, the mayor himself is a forest owner.

Energy poverty solution

In the second phase, people were recruited to work in the project. The minimal budget meant the project could only offer volunteers a meal and coffee. As Nóra Feldmár states, economically measurable poverty is often accompanied by a lack of trust and decision-making power. It proved hard to find willing volunteers among people who usually distrust each other to work towards an apparently abstract goal. Nonetheless, in the end she recruited 20 residents, both men and women. Between August and October they produced 30,000 briquettes. This is the equivalent of seven tons of climate-neutral heating fuel, and it considerably reduced energy poverty in the winter of 2012/2013.

[1] Central Statistics Bureau (Központi Statisztikai Hivatal): Household energy use / A háztartások energiafelhasználása, 2008, See: www.ksh.hu.

[2] According to the Regional Centre for Energy Policy, national definition of fuel poverty, this is three to three and a half cubic metres.

This article is presented in the Energy democracy in Europe, A survey and outlook by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in 2014.

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