[10.01.22] Blog – Energy poverty in Athens: a socio-spatial perspective

by Dimitris Papantonis, Dimitra Tzani, TEESlab-UPRC

The phenomenon of energy poverty and the solutions to the difficulties it has caused in modern civilization are a global challenge. Energy vulnerability is a serious issue caused by a complex interaction of several variables, including rising energy prices, people’s inability to pay their energy bills, stagnant or declining income, high unemployment, and the slow speed at which energy-saving measures are implemented in residences. On a social, environmental, and financial level, the evidence-based negative repercussions of the aforementioned relationship are felt. The path to solving the problem is still being paved.

The societal challenge of energy vulnerability is particularly acute in Greece. Following the economic crisis, more than a quarter of households are unable to keep their houses suitably heated in the winter, causing utility bill arrears to skyrocket. Similar is the case in Athens, the biggest Greek city, where a considerable number of homes have been unable to meet their energy needs for heating, cooling, lighting, or cooking since 2010.

ENPOR’s research so far[1] points out that the invisibility of energy vulnerable households, especially in the Private Rented Sector, works as a major impediment for the alleviation of energy poverty. Regarding the latter, the “Athens Social Atlas” project, which aims at highlighting and critically analysing topics concerning the social geography of Athens, and especially its task Mapping energy poverty in Athens during the crisis, is an important effort that tries to qualify and quantify energy-poor households in the city of Athens.

More specifically, it is concerned with the geographies of energy poverty in the Municipality of Athens, aiming to make a first macroscopic image of its socio-spatial dimension. To do so, they acquired and expanded primary data regarding the characteristics and uses of buildings, family incomes, energy consumption, and enacted policies against energy vulnerability, creating a series of thematic maps. They created seven maps regarding the residential sector of the Municipality of Athens. These maps are classifying Athens’ households in the following categories “Regular dwellings without insulation”, “Households using heating oil as the main energy resource for heating”, “Households using natural gas as the main energy resource for heating”, “Change in domestic electricity consumption”, “Beneficiaries for the heating oil subsidy”, “Beneficiaries of the Program for Confronting the Humanitarian Crisis for free electricity and reconnection to electricity network”, and “Average family income”.

According to the thematic maps, there is no apparent division among the neighbourhoods of the Municipality of Athens, as devaluation and low energy efficiency of the building stock, poverty, and energy consumption reduction are all prevalent. However, there are specific areas in the Municipality of Athens, where the concentration of low-income groups and devaluated buildings is higher, that living conditions are deteriorating, and problems are significant.

As far as the programmes for tackling energy poverty are concerned, it is mentioned that the number of beneficiaries is limited compared to needs, and is not particularly concentrated in the areas with the biggest problems. The only exception is the program of the Ministry of Labor, Social Security and Social Solidarity providing free access to electricity for vulnerable groups, the beneficiaries of which are concentrated in low-income neighbourhoods. But even in this case, the inability of households to satisfy their energy needs is mainly dealt with by income support, and not by a long-term strategy for addressing energy deprivation. Moreover, the benefits are the same for all beneficiaries, without any graduation according to households’ resources, buildings’ characteristics, and in fact without an accurate account of the spatial distribution of energy poverty.

Considering also the implications of COVID-19, it is necessary to reform the existing energy-poor support programmes/schemes in Greece in order to be tailor-made to the needs of vulnerable groups. Subsidy programmes should promote energy efficiency interventions and not be solely in the form of financial support, in order to support economic recovery and decarbonisation simultaneously.

In this context, ENPOR aims to launch and encourage the replication of 10 energy efficiency policies, with Greece being one of the pilot countries.  The policies examined within the ENPOR intend to tackle the split incentive and lock-in barriers, two main barriers regarding energy efficiency interventions in the Private Rented sector,  facilitating that way the development of energy efficiency support schemes for vulnerable groups and boosting financial recovery.

For more information please visit: https://www.athenssocialatlas.gr/en/article/energy-poverty/

[1] https://zenodo.org/record/5384732#.YUNF1U5R02w