The office of the Government of the Czech Republic organized a seminar in Prague on the 12th December, 2019 to present a new policy paper and a study called Energy Poverty in the Danube Region.
The research was co-funded by the European Union (ERDF) and was done by Czech Technical University in Prague. The study is also a part of the EU Strategy program for the Danube Region (EUSDR) which is a macro-regional strategy adopted by the European Commission.
One of EUSDR’s priority areas is Sustainable Energy and works on three main objectives – coordination of regional energy policies, helping to implement the EU energy acquis, and launching cutting edge technology developments to increase energy efficiency of the region.
About the publication
Defining energy poverty
It is evident that the definition of energy poverty which was proposed last year by Covenant of Mayors in publication Alleviating energy poverty becomes more and more used as a keystone of energy poverty research. The study of Danube Region is not an exception to this tendency. Indifferently, the study identifies the lack of clear and universal definition as a threat to the research in this area as it could bring clarity into understanding the scope of this topic, especially considering the mobility within the definition.
“A situation where a household or an individual is unable to afford basic energy services (heating, cooling, lighting, mobility and power) to guarantee a decent standard of living due to a combination of low income, high energy expenditure and low energy efficiency of their homes”
Danube Region is a large region with different historical influences, cultures, wealth or living standards and energy poverty varies significantly between these countries. Moreover, the region consists of both EU Member States and non-EU countries.
The estimated number of people at risk of energy poverty in the European Union is between 10% and 25% of the population.
Indicators of energy poverty
The study identifies three main drivers of energy poverty which are then accompanied by varying secondary drivers. The main three indicators are:
- Energy prices
- Quality of buildings
The cause of energy poverty, however, cannot be sought only in these general identifiers. They rather intersect and connect to a wide range of social changes and phenomena, such as unemployment or low paid jobs, property seizures, poor thermal efficiency and low-quality housing connected with increase of fuel prices. Moreover, deregulation and privatization of housing and energy sector lead to change of perception of energy from being a public good to a general commodity on market.
Another dimension includes the age, education, health and family situations as social drivers of energy poverty. If we add the incapability or missing interest of local or state governments to cope with this situation, we come to a full image of energy poverty in all specific dimensions.
Energy poverty is not only about availability or affordability. Similarly, it is about (in)efficiency and flexibility of energy services that meet the needs of households.
Apart from talking about the drivers of energy poverty, it is likewise crucial to identify the areas of life impacted by energy poverty. This publication uses the Eurostat framework of 8+1 dimensions of quality of life to define further energy poverty impact. These are:
- Material living conditions
- Productive or main activity
- Leisure and social interactions
- Economic security and physical safety
- Governance and basic rights
- Natural and living environment
- Overall experience of life
As in the case of main and secondary indicators of energy poverty, all these indicators of life quality have to be considered simultaneously because of potential trade-offs between them. The publication provides useful examples of how different areas of life are affected by energy poverty, like the following.
Energy poverty and bad living conditions have negative effect on children’s performance in school.
With high energy bills, there is a little or no money left for leisure activities or sudden expenses.
The question is, what can the state do to improve the situation? Through legislation, regulations, counselling and social work, subsidies, technical solutions and other types of measure, state can help the people suffering from energy poverty. Of course, it is crucial to define the vulnerable groups for which the previous factors serve as guidance in this process.
Apart from national governments, there are many international institutions and organizations supporting the solutions to energy poverty and not only in the Danube Region. Examples of such activities can be found in the activities and projects of International Energy Agency, Ashoka, Energy Sector Management Assistance Program, ENGAGER, EU Energy Poverty Observatory, Right to Energy Coalition or Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.
Participation with such platforms is a good way to learn how to do things, and avoid mistakes already made or even share own experience with others. For example, the EU Energy Observatory can inspire others with their projects and connect with other relevant organizations. Covenant of Mayors is a relevant platform for another specific type of stakeholders-municipalities. Moreover, The Policy Paper on Energy Poverty in the Danube Region, offers a guidance on replicating success of already implemented projects:
- Involve key stakeholders from the start
- Analyze local factors contributing to energy poverty
- Learn from others
- Look for indirect ways to reduce energy poverty
- Look for synergies
- Create a localized model
- Experiment in real-life conditions
- Evaluate and adopt the solution
- Share what you have learned
- Work within a peer-group
The EVALUATE project
Energy Vulnerability and Urban Transitions in Europe was a European Research Council funded project that took place between 2013 and 2018. Its goal was to investigate how urban institutional structures, built tissues and everyday practices shape energy vulnerability at a variety of geographical scale.
The project consisted of deep research in four Eastern and Central European post-communist areas: Gdańsk (Poland), Prague (Czech Republic), Budapest (Hungary) and Skopje (Republic of Macedonia).
The initial premise of the project says that providing affordable energy in cities depends on ensuring adequate match between housing types, heating systems and household needs on one side, and incomes and energy efficiency on the other. It succeeded in overcoming the short-sighted approach of focusing solely on poverty and access to energy efficiency. This research rather shows more complex issues of resilience and precariousness, investigating multiple social and spacial dimensions of energy vulnerability in the four mentioned areas.
The project resulted in numerous publications on energy poverty and vulnerability within the region and many of them are considered a crucial contribution to the multi-dimensional issue-solving.
Find more information about the study and policy paper Energy Poverty in the Danube Region here.
Find more information about the EVALUATE project here.