The last week has seen the publication of two working papers containing some of the latest results of research undertaken within the EVALUATE project. The first paper is titled ‘From fuel poverty to energy vulnerability: the importance of services, needs and practices’ and is now listed in the University of Sussex SPRU Working Paper series. The other has been published on the Social Science Research Network as part of the USAEE/IAEE Working Paper series and carries the title ‘Energy transitions and regional inequalities in energy poverty trends: Exploring the EU energy divide’. It was listed in SSRN’s Top Ten download list for: PSN: Comparative Poverty (Topic), Political Economy – Development: International Development Efforts & Strategies eJournal and SRPN: Poverty (Topic).
The two papers provide a summary of the main theoretical and empirical findings uncovered by our research team. In the first paper, the discussion starts by questioning the currently existing terminological gap between the notions of ‘energy poverty’ and ‘fuel poverty’ in developing and developed countries. It reveals the existence of a common condition: the inability to attain a socially- and materially necessitated level of domestic energy services. We thus argue that energy service poverty constitutes a truly global problem, underpinned by the sheer absence of adequate infrastructures in some cases, and by their inefficient operation in others. The driving forces that lead to the emergence of this condition are explored from a risk and resilience perspective through the ‘energy vulnerability’ concept, which is understood as the propensity to suffer from a lack of adequate energy services in the home, and emphasises household energy needs and social practices as key analytical categories. Such elements are explored in practice through empirical data collected for Hungary – one of the four EVALUATE case study countries – that show the various infrastructural and institutional path-dependencies leading to the emergence of energy poverty in post-socialist contexts.
The second paper presents the results of an empirically grounded investigation that analyses the significant spatial and temporal disparities in energy poverty indicators and driving factors across EU member states. The results of the data analysis suggest a classical ‘core vs. periphery’ split for energy poverty in the EU, as the incidence of this phenomenon is found to be significantly higher in Southern and Eastern European member states. This disparity is described with the aid of the term ‘energy divide’ that for the purposes of the inquiry is expanded from its original predominantly socially-orientated meaning to encapsulate existing inequalities at scales larger than the household (cities, regions, and countries). The EU’s geographical energy divide thus identified provides a starting point for exploring the relationship between energy transitions – conceptualized as wide ranging processes of socio-technical change of a multi-directional, spatially-contingent and path-dependent nature – and existing patterns of regional economic inequality in the EU.
To summarize, both papers underline how domestic energy deprivation is embedded in wider spatial and institutional landscapes, while highlighting its systemic driving forces and implications. We thus acknowledge the spatially heterogeneous character of energy poverty, while outlining the need for devising integrated and democratic policy solutions aimed at reducing household vulnerability.