Energy vulnerability conference in Manchester – a short report

By Stefan Bouzarovski

I announced the Manchester energy vulnerability conference several times on this blog – it finally happened last week (between the 21st and 23rd of May)! The event provided an entire new range of perspectives on the emergent framework of ‘energy vulnerability’, which refers to the propensity of a household, community or state to experience inadequate energy services. We discussed the underlying dynamics, constitutive processes and wider socio-economic implications of this condition.

The conference consisted of an early career research symposium featuring 20 selected papers after an open call, and a colloquium with 12 invited high-profile speakers. More than 60 participants from across the world, and based in academia, government, and the third sector, attended and gave presentations. The event was a joint initiative of the Energy Geographies Working Group of the Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers, and the International Energy Vulnerability Network. It was supported by the Meeting Place of the UK Energy Research Centre.

The event was accompanied by a press release, a dedicated twitter feed and several blog posts (see http://ukerc.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/we-need-an-ambitious-and-comprehensive-fuel-poverty-policy-by-stefan-bouzarovski/); the entire proceedings were recorded and will be released as video podcasts by the UK Energy Research Centre (in addition to a detailed report) at the following website: http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/support/0513_MP_EnergyVulnerability.

Following introductions by Simon Guy and me, the event commenced with an early career researcher session on Planning and policy options related to energy vulnerability, chaired by Robert Marchand. It featured papers by Alexander Wochnik (on the broader spatial and temporal dynamics of energy vulnerability), Rosalina Babourkova (on urban informality and legal and political pathways to energy poverty in a Romani settlement in Sofia), Graeme Sherriff (on energy vulnerabilities as drivers of, and challenges for, policy responses), Katrin Großmann (on energy costs, residential mobility and segregation in a shrinking city) Juliana Antunes De Azevedo (speaking about a high-resolution analysis of the urban heat island effect on household electricity consumption).

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Speakers at the first symposium session

The discussion then moved onto household perspectives on energy vulnerability. In a discussion chaired by Rose Chard, we had the opportunity to hear about Harriet Thomson’s latest research on the public perceptions and experiences of energy vulnerabilities across the European Union, as well as Sergio Tirado Herrero’s exploration of household strategies for coping with domestic energy costs in Hungary. This was followed by Flora Ogilvie’s health impact assessment of Englands fuel poverty policy, as well as Daniel Quiggin’s exploration of the extent to which future households are expected to be smart.

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Speakers at the second symposium session

The third session on the first day of the early career researcher symposium, chaired by Komalirani Yenneti, concentrated on the assessment of area-based solutions. Presenters included Sam Wong (who offered a paper about the depoliticisation of low-carbon technologies in addressing environmental challenges via a case study of Rajasthan in India), Jenni Viitanen (who challenged the orthodoxies of policy interventions in domestic heating and energy efficiency), Susan Lagdon (who provided an evaluation of impacts in retrofitting fuel poor households via a small scale study in Northern Ireland) and Ryan Walker (who spoke about area-based approaches to fuel poverty in Northern Ireland).

Last but not least, we discussed the relevance of pathways to decarbonisation in the context of energy vulnerability (this session was also chaired by Rose Chard). Juan Cervantes presented a paper about the green economy and its implications on energy vulnerability, while Olufemi Olukayode Ogunlowo talked about ‘energy vulnerability in the midst of plenty’ in the context of CNG as a potential transportation energy source in Nigeria. Ruth Bush assessed the potential of district heat networks for realising the co-benefits of climate change mitigation and fuel poverty alleviation, while Christopher Jones investigated how the fuel poverty implications of heating services decarbonisation pathways can be avoided. Mohammed Moniruzzaman discussed the consequences of energy vulnerability and gateways to its solution.

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Breakout groups at the symposium

The morning of the second day was devoted to breakout groups and open discussion sessions, exploring the themes that would be taken forward into debates during and after the event, and career opportunities available to researchers in the energy vulnerability field. The subsequent colloquium commenced with introductions to the EGWG and IEVN provided by, respectively, Gavin Bridge and me.

Stefan Bouzarovski and Gavin Bridge

Opening the colloquium

We then moved onto the first session, which provided a range of new perspectives on fuel poverty, and was chaired by Karen Bickerstaff. It contained presentations by Jamie Torrens (on why measurement of fuel poverty matters), Eldin Fahmy (on the Hills Fuel Poverty Review and its implications for research, policy and practice), Ian Preston (who debated what is fair in paying for the energy bill) as well as Saska Petrova, who provided an analytical and policy framework for moving from fuel poverty towards energy vulnerability.

Some of the speakers in the first colloquium session

Some of the speakers in the first colloquium session

The second session (chaired by Graeme Sheriff) re-positioned the concept of energy vulnerability within the process of decarbonising communities and cities. It featured presentations by Harriet Bulkeley (who explored attempts to secure decarbonisation and address energy vulnerability via community responses in London and the North East) Heather Lovell (whose presentation scrutinised the origins and outcomes of new district heating in Edinburgh and Glasgow) as well as Karen Bickerstaff (who brought in reflections from the the InCluESEV research cluster with respect to the role of energy vulnerability in a low carbon society).

The second colloquium session

The second colloquium session

The last session of the second day presented the colloquium audience with insights from the symposium, allowing for reflection and discussion in breakout groups.

The morning of the third day of the event was devoted to a session on energy vulnerability via the lens of social justice, practices and health, and was chaired by Jenni Vitanen, Here, we had the opportunity to find out about Gordon Walker’s work on understanding and addressing energy vulnerability via the lens of justice concepts, Matt Watson’s reconceptualisation of energy vulnerability through theories of practice, Damian Burton’s  redefinition of vulnerability at the city-scale as well as Matthias Braubach’s exploration of the health dimension of energy vulnerability in housing.

Speakers at the third colloquium session

Speakers at the third colloquium session

The last session of the colloquium focused on identifying the future research and policy agenda around energy vulnerability. We organised an ‘easy chair’ session with the purpose of formulating and discussing some of the main questions that emerged from the various presentations and breakout groups that took place during the event.

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