THE EVALUATE PROJECT
This website is organised under the auspices of Energy Vulnerability and Urban Transitions in Europe (EVALUATE) – a five-year European Research Council Starting grant project, underway since March 2013. It aims to investigate the manner in which urban institutional structures, built tissues and everyday practices shape energy vulnerability at a variety of geographical scales.
Taking into account recent advances in research on social resilience (Gallopín 2006) and procedural environmental justice (Walker 2006) the project uses an energy vulnerability framework to explore fuel poverty and domestic energy deprivation in Europe. Energy vulnerability can be seen as the propensity of a household to suffer from a lack of adequate energy services in the home.
Providing affordable energy in the city, according to the initial premise of the project, is just as much a question of ensuring an adequate match between housing types, heating systems and household needs, as it is about incomes and energy efficiency. As such, the project aims to generate a conceptual shift in the mainstream theorization of domestic energy deprivation, away from the present focus on poverty, access and energy efficiency, onto more complex and nuanced issues of resilience and precariousness.
Using a wide range of methods, the project interrogates these issues with reference to the post-communist states of Eastern and Central Europe (ECE) – a part of the world that provides an ideal space to study energy vulnerability due to its unique combination of cold climates, higher-than-average rates of inefficient housing, inadequately developed and/or decaying infrastructure, large income differentials and economic/political restructuring issues. Many countries in this region have undertaken significant energy price increases during the past 20 years, as a result of which many families have no option other than to cut back on their energy purchases. International organizations have emphasized that energy affordability is a problem for many consumer groups in the region, including ‘pensioners, unemployed, low income households’, especially in the states that ‘have not yet developed adequate social safety mechanisms to protect energy poor consumers’ (EBRD 2003). Indeed, numerous statistical surveys and research studies (see Bouzarovski et al. 2010) confirm that rates of domestic energy deprivation are significantly higher in ECE compared to the rest of Europe.
EValUaTE represents the first comprehensive investigation of the multiple social and spatial dimensions of energy vulnerability in the grain of the post-communist city. In light of the fact that previous work in the region and elsewhere has indicated that energy vulnerability arises as result of poor inter-sectoral co-ordination, the research examines the ways in which this condition is produced and mitigated through the interaction of relevant decision-making institutions in the energy, social welfare, health and housing domains. Considering that the ECE region comprises a wide variety of states – and given the analytical aims stated above, as well as the need to select a broadly representative sample of sites – the project involves a comparative study of eight urban districts within four ECE cities: Gdańsk (Poland), Prague (Czech Republic), Budapest (Hungary) and Skopje (Republic of Macedonia).