The EVENT project commenced its programme of activities during July and August. These were undertaken amidst an atmosphere of rising controversy around questions of energy prices and energy poverty in Greece. Rapid increases in electricity tariffs during July became a major point of political contention in the country, especially as they are anticipated to continue at an unbridled pace in the future. The inclusion of new property taxes in electricity bills also attracted public attention, as did suggestions that the rise in energy prices can be attributed to the expanding production of renewable energy in the country.
Overall, electricity demand has generally been lower during the past six months, in comparison with previous years at least. In addition to the economic crisis, this has been attributed to the relatively mild spring and summer (in Greek terms!). But the decline in consumption is also a signal that households are cutting back further on their energy purchases.
It was amidst developments such as these that I undertook a brief scoping visit to Thessaloniki and its surroundings during July, so as to start identifying some of the key issues and questions that will inform the project, and set the groundwork for the ethnographic research that will be undertaken by Dr Alexandra Prodromidou later this month. Among the numerous impressions garnered from this trip, I would single out the emergence of a specific material manifestation of energy poverty in the regional (or rather peri-urban) landscape: fuelwood reselling yards and depots. They have become a ubiquitous feature of Greece’s roadside vistas, as a result of the extensive switching away from oil and gas for space heating and cooking.
I was also struck by the extent to which space cooling is not seen as an energy poverty issue in Greece. Unlike heating, which provoked anxieties and concern among many of my interlocutors, space cooling – which, by the way, is almost entirely powered by expensive electricity – is seen as an optional extra, as ‘something we can cope without’. Yet living in an inadequately cooled home during a Greek summer day with above-average temperatures is physically unbearable; in Thessaloniki, for example, the local authority set up communally airconditioned spaces to help vulnerable households cope with the heat wave that engulfed the country at the end of July.
Thanks to the restructuring of the urban energy blog, we will now have a dedicated feed for updates relating to the EVENT project. Watch this space!