Confronting Energy Poverty: An interview with Professor Stefan Bouzarovski

This is a short summary of an interview I conducted with Professor Stefan Bouzarovski, for the Energy and Innovation Podcast, with the first episode to be released on Friday, September 21, 2018

update: The episode can be found here.

Or on iTunes.

Autumn is approaching. The nights are getting colder and for homeowners in the Northern hemisphere, the chill is upon them. Energy poverty is a hidden nemesis that plagues not just the poor households, but affects people living in energy inefficient homes. Energy poverty affects not just the thermal comfort of individuals, but their self-perceptions and can lead to feelings of social exclusion and isolation as they struggle to live in cold homes.[1]

“One of my main points, energy poverty is not a subset of income poverty. If you look at energy poor households. There is a group of energy poor, but are not considered income poor,” stated Professor Stefan Bouzarovski.

There are different recognitions of the issue of energy poverty. France is pointed out as a good example of a country tackling energy poverty through housing measures, while traction on the concept is active in Poland.

Energy poverty is complex issue due to issues like housing, which can be owned or rented by occupants. Family and age status, whether there are children or pensioners occupy the dwelling. This is relevant because people are at home all day long and it can be difficult to get ‘out of the cold’ in the winter. These complexities mean there needs to be a range of policy issues that come together to assist people with their heating – or cooling – needs. In 2017, The European Commission established the EU Energy Poverty Observatory (EPOV). Professor Bouzarovski is the chair of the EPOV steering committee.

A quick overview of the EPOV demonstrates it is full of data and case studies on energy poverty. Exploring and working with the data on the website shows how important data is in understanding and comparing the extent of energy poverty. Some very interesting findings emerge by clicking through the data sets with the website set up for making quick charts and comparisons. For example, creating a map on the inability of households to keep a warm home, indicates both regional and national disparities, demonstrated in figure 1.

Figure 1: Map of Europe indicating the inability to keep homes warm (Source: EU Energy Poverty Observatory)

 

Creating a chart on arrears on utility bills provides an interesting perspective on shifting policies and what percentage of households were unable to pay for household utilities like, gas, water, and electricity. Figure 2 demonstrates diverging abilities across the EU on households’ abilities. At one extreme is Hungary (1), demonstrated its energy policy resembling a drunken sailor between economic growth, private ownership, then regulated rates. While Germany and the UK (2) indicate, moderate shifts over the same period, and Poland and Lithuania (3) demonstrate a sustained (if vacillating) push in reducing utility arrears. The EPOV data and ability to quickly analyze it provides a snapshot on a range of issues indicating and affecting energy poverty. This is very useful for both students and researchers producing quick summaries or more in-depth studies on energy poverty.

Figure 2: Arrears on Utility Bills (Source: EU Energy Poverty Observatory) – with my commentary

 

 

 

 

The approach towards examining energy poverty is expanded in Professor Bouzarovski’s new (open access – free) book, ‘Energy Poverty (Dis)Assembling Europe’s Infrastructural Divide’ published by Springer. In chapter 1, he outlines the emerging field of energy geography as a providing the ability to shift away from the one-dimensional analysis of energy poverty, encompasses a nuanced accounting of institutional change and place influencing the patterns of energy poverty. In particular, (as related in the forthcoming Energy and Innovation podcast interview, to be published on Friday, September 21, 2018), Geography enables the ‘how’ and ‘why’ aspects of energy poverty to be explored and explained (and possibly answered).

Energy Poverty
(Dis)Assembling Europe’s Infrastructural Divide, 2018, by Stefan Bouzarovski, full book can be downloaded from here

Reflecting on his multiple leadership roles in policy and academia, Bouzarovski states in the interview, “if we are academics, we are placed in a unique place, which is to be thinkers, to be the place where new ideas get generated, and where critical evaluation happens, nowhere else in society does that happen.” He points out there is a social relevance for our research and we shouldn’t underestimate the impact it can have.

In an age of populism when science and academic freedom are under attack, these observations of Professor Bouzarovski are highly relevant. Uncovering negative social and policy impacts in the politically charged topic of energy won’t win friends and influence all people, but as Bouzarovski identifies, can lead to “progressive outcomes.” These outcomes, and the research leading to a greater contribution to tackling energy poverty can be found on the EPOV website and in Bouzarovski’s prolific output. As he concludes his Energy Poverty book, energy poverty and vulnerability, persist due to particular power interests and ideologies. Academics can make a strong effort to uncover these disparities and develop solutions for society.

References:

[1] Bouzarovski et al., “Unpacking the Spaces and Politics of Energy Poverty.”

“Energy Poverty – (Dis)Assembling Europe’s Infrastructural Divide | Stefan Bouzarovski | Palgrave Macmillan.” Accessed September 18, 2018. https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783319692982.

Author: Michael LaBelle

Dr. Michael LaBelle is an associate professor and the Jean Monnet Chair in Energy and Innovation Strategies at Central European University. He holds a joint appointment between the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy and the Department of Economics and Business. His research is centered on energy governance, innovation strategies, and energy justice.