Working to help Albertans reduce their energy bills

Kambo Energy Group’s Yasmin Abraham discusses energy poverty and a new program working with people living on low incomes to make their houses more energy efficient

12 July 2023

Toy house on top of papers with a calculator

We’ve all witnessed energy bills creeping up recently and high prices are compounding the effects of the cost of living crisis. We sat down with energy efficiency advocate Yasmin Abraham to talk about energy poverty and a new program that's helping Calgarians living on low incomes make necessary upgrades to lower their bills.

How is rising energy costs impacting low-income individuals and families?

There isn’t enough concrete research to answer with a high degree of certainty. However, speaking anecdotally, many of the individuals in our programs have spoken to us about challenges they’re facing. From what we’re seeing, bills are higher than they were a few years ago and a high inflation environment is exacerbating pre-existing stressors. The challenge ultimately comes down to individuals and families being forced into tough compromises; in some cases, they may be choosing between whether to heat or cool their home or allocate that money towards another life necessity, such as groceries or health expenses.

What is energy poverty? How big of a problem is it in Alberta?

There are multiple ways to look at energy poverty. However, put simply, energy poverty is the experience of being unable to afford to comfortably heat or cool your home, or power your lights and appliances. From a numbers perspective, households living in energy poverty allocate a disproportionate amount of their income towards home energy needs. In Canada, the median household spends less than 3% of after-tax income on meeting their home energy needs. When a household spends 6% or more of their income on home energy needs, they are considered to be living in energy poverty.

Energy poverty affects about 1 in 5 residents in Canada. This is a big driver behind our decision to launch the Home Upgrades Program. In the first ten weeks following the launch of the program, applicant incomes were on average 48% lower than the Stats Canada low-income cut-offs, while energy bills were on average 37% higher than bills paid by the average Albertan.

I also want to emphasize that energy poverty is a complex experience that can impact many demographics. Efficiency Canada highlights the three main issues driving energy poverty as low incomes, high energy prices, and/or energy-inefficient homes. In this sense, it’s more than just a question of income. People living in energy poverty include homeowners and renters, people from all different backgrounds, and even individuals who may not fall into “low-income” brackets but are perhaps living in older, more inefficient homes that require major/costly upgrades and repairs. Based on 25% sample data in the 2021 census, there were 22,780 homes in Calgary alone that were listed as requiring major repairs. This whole experience compounds when households cannot afford to upgrade their homes or don’t qualify for loans. Meanwhile, they may face the risk of utility disconnections or could be caught in a cycle of arrears with no way to reduce their energy bills.

22,780 homes in Calgary were listed as requiring major repairs.

What are some typical approaches to lowering home energy costs?

Energy efficiency is the most economical way to reduce energy consumption and as a result, lower home energy costs. Because buildings are as unique as the people who live in them, the best way to improve efficiency will vary from one home to the next; for instance, for a house with an extremely old furnace, installing a high-efficiency furnace can make a big difference. For other homes, the biggest changes might come from adding insulation, replacing windows, installing weatherstripping, or other energy-saving measures. One simple yet very impactful solution is to install and program a programmable thermostat.

There’s a big segment of people living on low incomes that rent. How can they improve energy efficiency?

Efficiency Canada actually published a report on this topic, discussing public policy approaches to improving energy efficiency in rental housing.

More immediately though, behavioural changes are going to be one of the best ways to reduce energy consumption for renters. These changes can include everything from programming thermostats to keeping windows shut while a home is being heated or cooled. Ultimately, making behavioural changes can help renters reduce energy consumption in situations where they may not be allowed to make physical changes, such as replacing windows or a furnace. There are free Energy Saving Workshops that provide tips and tricks and allow people to ask questions.

What’s the Home Upgrades Program?

We recently launched the Home Upgrades Program in partnership with Alberta Ecotrust Foundation. The program, which is currently available to residents living in Edmonton and Calgary, is designed to help Albertans reduce their energy consumption while improving the safety and comfort of their homes. We provide deep energy retrofits and energy education free of charge. We also take more of a diagnostic approach to upgrading homes, as opposed to a “one size fits all” approach. This means we look at individual houses and provide varying levels of support, products, and installations based on their unique needs and circumstances.

The Home Upgrades Program is Alberta's first and only program to help homeowners reduce their energy costs through a combination of education and targeted home upgrades. You can visit to learn more or apply for free home upgrades.

Why is the Home Upgrades Program needed?

Aside from addressing the issue of energy poverty, the Home Upgrades Program is designed to reach a broader range of demographics, including non-English speakers, lower-income families, and other underprioritized communities. This is key because these are groups who might otherwise fall through the cracks or might not be able to benefit from existing programs.

It's also brought together utilities, community organizations, governments, and other groups who each hold one piece of a larger, more complicated puzzle. We can’t solve energy poverty in siloes, so creating a platform where experts can collectively implement holistic solutions is important.

Lastly, individuals experiencing energy poverty typically don't have the capital to participate in many rebate programs which often require homeowners to make payments for which they’ll be reimbursed. The same goes for those who won’t qualify for loans. This excludes many lower-income households from enrolling in existing upgrade programs.

How do people apply for the Home Upgrades Program?

To apply for the program, you can visit It’s also worth visiting our Frequently Asked Questions page to learn more about income qualifications and other eligibility requirements. It’s a simple application and is currently available in English, Punjabi, and Simplified Chinese.

1 in 5 Albertans live in energy poverty

For many it is a never-ending cycling of unaffordable bills, arrears and disconnection, along with the inability or resources to make changes to improve efficiency. A family is in “energy poverty” if 6% or more of its net income is spent on energy bills, or double what the median Canadian household pays on energy. Over the past few months, it’s likely that many more families have entered this category.