In the following guest article, Professor Stefan Bouzarovski introduces EVALUATE, a new project focussing on energy vulnerability issues in Eastern and Central Europe.
Even though evidence about the extent and depth of domestic energy deprivation across Europe is limited, there is little doubt this condition is most widespread in Eastern and Central Europe. SILC data, for example, repeatedly place countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Hungary and the post-Soviet Baltic states at the top of the EU list in terms of their population shares with self-reported inadequate heating, arrears in utility bills, poorly insulated homes and a heavy financial burdens on housing. Work in the non-EU West Balkan states indicates that the residents of these countries face even more difficult circumstances. Indeed, this year has seen energy price-related protests across the region, with those in Bulgaria leading to a notorious outcome: The wholesale resignation of the government.
Generally, the driving forces of energy poverty in Eastern and Central Europe (ECE) can be categorized under four headings:
- Legacies of the centrally-planned economy: the existence of cross-subsidized energy prices during Communist rule, the reliance on coal throughout the energy supply chain, and state interference and ownership of energy enterprises;
- Neoliberal energy reforms: rapid upward price rebalancing, accompanied by the unbundling/ liberalization/ marketization/ privatization of the energy sector;
- Inadequate social welfare and energy efficiency policies: The poor development of social and housing policy during the past 20 years;
- Physical factors: continental climate, winter inversions.
Overall trends indicate that urban pensioners in the region are among the most vulnerable – often as a result of living in difficult-to-heat homes – although families with children who inhabit poorly insulated dwellings also rank high on the energy poverty list. Energy deprivation in the home also disproportionately affects rural households, as well as those affected by unemployment.
Aside from such broad inferences, however, there is not much we can say about the specificities of inadequate domestic energy services in the region. This is mainly due to the weak knowledge base; alongside my book on Energy Poverty in Eastern Europe and work by authors such as Sergio Tirado-Herrero, Saska Petrova, Aleskandar Kovacevic, Mark Velody, Michael Caine the only other published research has been policy-orientated and led by international organizations such as the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and World Health Organization.
All of this is about to change, however, thanks to the advent of the EVALUATE (Energy Vulnerability and Urban Transitions in Europe) project – a new 5-year initiative supported via a European Research Council Starting Grant award. EVALUATE will use a vulnerability framework (energy vulnerability can be understood, put simply, as the propensity of a household to access inadequate energy services in the home – this allows for a more systemic and dynamic perspective on the issue) to map ECE energy poverty with unprecedented detail: In addition to transnational and national-level analyses of statistical data, the project involves interviews with decision makers in four case study countries: Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Macedonia. This is to be followed by detailed statistical surveys and qualitative research in two neighbourhoods of a key city for each of the four countries: Gdansk (Poland), Prague (Czech Republic), Budapest (Hungary), and Skopje (Macedonia).
In addition to me, the project team also includes Dr Saska Petrova and Dr Sergio Tirado-Herrero at the University of Manchester. There is also an advisory board of eight experts from different disciplines: human geography, social policy, energy regulation, environmental science, health and engineering. We are in the process of forming an energy vulnerability action group associated with the project. So far we have managed to recruit representatives from several European advocacy organizations, and the EU Fuel poverty network itself.
More information about EVALUATE can be found on its core site: The Urban Energy blog. In addition to academic papers, press releases and dissemination activities associated with this website, we are also intending to hold several international workshops and conferences. One of these will take place in Brussels in early 2014 (the announcement will become public soon). Therefore: Watch this space!
Bouzarovski S (2013) Energy poverty in the European Union: Landscapes of vulnerability. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews. Available online. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wene.89/abstract.
Petrova S, Gentile M, Mäkinen IH, Bouzarovski S (2013) Perceptions of thermal comfort and housing quality: exploring the microgeographies of energy poverty in Stakhanov, Ukraine. Environment and Planning A 45: 1240-1257.
Bouzarovski S, Petrova S, Sarlamanov S (2012) Energy poverty policies in the EU: A critical perspective. Energy Policy 49: 76-82.