From fuel poverty to energy vulnerability: Harriet Thomson joins the EVALUATE team

The latest addition to the EVALUATE project team is Harriet Thomson, who will be joining as a research associate over the next two years. In her first blog article within this role, Harriet discusses the key themes of the project, and how this follows on from her doctoral research.

By Harriet Thomson

Previous scientific research has indicated a widespread prevalence of domestic energy deprivation issues across Europe (e.g. Bouzarovski, 2013; Thomson and Snell, 2013). Recently completed PhD research by Harriet Thomson has confirmed these trends via a new household-level index, which has provided additional insight into the pervasive nature of fuel poverty in Europe. The summative index uses three prevailing consensual indicators from the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) to show for the first time the severity of self-reported issues. The three indicators are:

  1. Ability to afford to keep the home adequately warm.
  2. Leaking roof, damp walls/floors/foundation, or rot in window frame or floor.
  3. Arrears on utility bills in the last 12 months.

By calculating the number of EU-SILC indicators reported by households, the index finds around 30 per cent of households across EU27 reported one or more indicator in 2010, which equates to approximately 52.1 million households. A higher proportion of households reported just one indicator (21.9%, 39.9 million), rather than two indicators (6.4%, 10 million), or all three indicators (1.4%, 2.3 million). Every country within the EU contained households that self-reported one or more of these indicators, without exception.

However, despite these recent advances in research, there is still a lack of detailed understanding of the everyday lived experiences of households that are experiencing energy deprivation. Furthermore, existing research is unable to adequately explain how drivers such as the built environment, everyday energy practices, and institutional structures are shaping energy vulnerabilities across Europe.

Harriet has been leading the 'EU fuel poverty network' - an online portal that documents this phenomenon in the European context.
Harriet has been leading the ‘EU fuel poverty network’ – an online portal that documents this phenomenon in the European context.

A significant barrier to research is the current paucity of data. Although Harriet’s PhD research drew attention to a number of underutilised and previously unused data sources, such as Eurobarometer and the European Quality of Life Survey, it concluded that the available data is not fit for purpose. This is one of the key distinctions of the EVALUATE research project; it represents a shift change in data collection and is beginning to address the critical deficit in knowledge around domestic energy vulnerability in Europe. Understood as the propensity of a household to suffer from a lack of adequate energy services in the home, the energy vulnerability framework offers a dynamic structure for broadening the focus of research beyond the prevailing triad of fuel poverty drivers, namely household income, energy efficiency and energy prices (Bouzarovski et al., 2014).

Over the forthcoming months, Harriet will be undertaking quantitative analyses of the recently completed EVALUATE household surveys from four study cities: Gdańsk (Poland), Prague (Czech Republic), Budapest (Hungary) and Skopje (Republic of Macedonia). The survey data offers an unprecedented level of detail on themes such as thermal comfort, heating practices, and energy efficiency, and the results of the analyses will be disseminated via this website, policy briefs, and journal articles.

Harriet will also be involved with coordinating a proposal for the next funding round of the European Cooperation in Science and Technology scheme (COST). The COST scheme provides generous funding for researchers and practitioners to meet on a regular basis in order to develop partnerships and work collaboratively. As part of this activity, researchers at CURE will be exploring how best to utilise the EU Fuel Poverty Network, which is a widely recognised online portal that was launched by Harriet in 2011. The European landscape has changed substantially since this initiative was started, so an assessment of its purpose is overdue. If you have any ideas about developing the EU Fuel Poverty Network, and/or would like to take an active role in the COST proposal, please do get in contact!

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