Written by Filip Kusmierski, Habitat for Humanity Poland
11 September 2017, Nottingham, UK
The problem of energy poverty persists all over Europe. But is it the same everywhere? Researchers at the Symposium ‘Advances in fuel poverty and practice’ co-organised by the European Fuel Poverty Observatory and Nottingham Trent University tend to disagree.
A number of academics presented their research regarding energy poverty in European countries, but also in China and New Zealand. It becomes apparent that forging a single, universal definition of fuel/energy poverty is unfeasible for a number of reasons. It was pointed out that many European and national institutions insist on introducing a definition of fuel poverty into their respective legislation, but given the differences in needs, housing stocks and climate, a unified pan-European definition should not be introduced.
Though, it is increasingly challenging to combine the definitions and analytical methods used by researches to those applied by practitioners, as the latter must employ possibly the most efficient and cheapest practical solutions. Often it happens that methodology and proposed solutions to energy used by academics are simply too costly or challenging in implementation. It remains an important task to find a middle way and hopefully the European Fuel Poverty Network could serve as a platform for finding a satisfactory solution.
However, issues regarding energy poverty are somewhat similar when discussing geo-political blocs of countries.
All countries in the former Eastern Bloc struggle with retrofitting their post-Soviet housing stock, as well as introducing suitable legal solutions aimed at solving the problem of fuel poverty. It became apparent that in Poland, Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria there was a definition of energy poverty basing solely on income criteria – meaning the recipients of social welfare systems. Such situation creates an additional problem of inadequate distribution of resources, as it omits a large group of people living in fuel/energy poverty, who do not qualify to the welfare systems, as their nominal incomes are too high.
Representatives of various NGOs from the Balkans, but also a researcher from New Zealand lobby their respective governments for increasing the resources spent towards thermal insulation of multi- and single-family houses, as they perceive it as the best method of combating energy poverty. It was also raised that in China, despite high energy subsidies, many inhabitants of the northern regions live in fuel/energy poverty due to the low energy efficiency of their households. Also, because of the irrational usage of energy caused by its low price, the problem of air pollution is additionally intensified.
Energy efficiency was listed as one of the key and universal aspects in combating fuel/energy poverty.
Also, one must note that pre-paid meters, despite their popularity in the UK among the poor, generate a lot of social and economic issues, as households often have to choose between paying their energy bill or fulfilling other basic needs. In the area of East Midlands a number of non-governmental organisations in cooperation with an energy supplier E.ON introduced a pilot programme, handing out vouchers for pre-paid meters to the benefactors of social kitchens and food banks, who have such meter at home. However, it is only a temporary and ad-hoc solution and does not solve the problem long-term.
Moreover, a presentation was given on Robin Hodd Energy – a not-for-profit energy company, which operates much like any other energy supplier, but offers possibly the lowest prices possible to its customers. It has been active in the Nottingham region for the past 2 years and it has managed to lead to a significant energy price decrease among all major suppliers and caused the region to be named number 1 in free market and competition in the energy sector by Ofgem.
Researchers have also pointed out that fuel/energy poverty occurs also in the summer and might mean households being too warm, rather too cold. Interestingly, respondents from Poland and other countries from the East and Central European region have complained about the warmth in the summer more often than the cold in the winter.
It can be expected that with the progressing climate change, such change will be more apparent and new solutions will have to be sought to address this issue.
Academics from Germany have also presented their research regarding the link between fuel/energy poverty and the increased presence of renewable energy on the German energy markets. It was discovered that the broad support system offered by the state, combined with the decarbonisation policy have already caused a large energy price increase – and correspondigly, deepened the problem of fuel/energy poverty in Germany. It was proposed that there should be an increased amount of funds directed towards improving thermal insulation of buildings, as well as increasing energy efficiency and lowering the final energy consumption of all households through a complex system of financing programmes such as subsidies for replacing old appliances, insulation of walls, roofs etc.
The conference was an excellent for gaining new insight on the matters of fuel/energy poverty, as well as exchanging experiences and knowledge in terms of practice and research across the continent.
|Filip Kusmierski joined Habitat for Humanity Poland in July 2017. He works predominantly on the issues regarding energy poverty and energy efficiency in the housing sector in Poland. He studied energy law and politics at the University of Aberdeen and has been involved in non-governmental organisations since 2009. Before joining Habitat, he has organised a variety of social and volunteering projects in Poland, Germany and the UK. He’s particularly interested in renewable energy and new technologies.|