Around 11 per cent of households in Spain, which is over five million people, are unable to heat their homes properly during the country’s coldest months.
RMIT researcher Sergio Tirado, a sustainable energy futures expert based at RMIT Europe, recently coordinated a study across Spain on energy poverty, vulnerability and inequality in collaboration with Spain's Environmental Sciences Association.
Tirado said the study findings, which were presented at a recent event in Madrid in Spain, highlighted a 22 per cent increase in the number of people unable to access heating in winter compared to between 2012 and 2014 - the last year with available data.
“Around 8 per cent of households, which is 4.2 million people, also stated in the survey that they had outstanding debt on utility bills for the use of energy at home,” he said.
“Our result show that for 15 per cent of households, or 6.2 million people, more than 10 per cent of the household annual income goes towards paying for domestic energy.”
Additional findings revealed that 10 per cent of Spanish households, or 4.9 million people, were shown to be in difficulty when assessed against the official energy poverty indicator used in the United Kingdom.
“These are households whose actual domestic energy costs are above the national median and once you remove these costs plus other housing costs from their income, it falls below the monetary poverty line,” Tirado said.
This challenge facing many people in Spain is considered to be a direct consequence of the global financial and economic crisis because despite energy poverty being rooted in structural causes such as pre-crisis deprivation and inequality levels, Tirado said it's also strongly connected with the poor energy performance of the Spanish housing stock as well as the lack of an adequate policy framework.
“Despite some improvements in the economy in 2013 and 2014, we’ve seen a steady increase in energy poverty levels from the onset of the economic crisis through to 2014,” he said.
“We’re now seeing a growing level of societal and institutional recognition of energy poverty as an issue of concern."
The study also revealed higher incidences of energy poverty in Spain are shown to exist with those already vulnerable.
“There’s a higher incidence of energy poverty for persons with a low level of education, unemployed or living on benefits, or working temporarily. They may also be single, widowed or divorced, coming from a country outside the EU, or a single parent,” Tirado said.
“We’ve also seen higher domestic energy deprivation levels for households where there are persons with self-reported bad health or those who are chronically ill.
“People renting or using solid or liquid fuels for heating are also more likely to experience energy poverty.”
Over the past few years, Spain’s Environmental Sciences Association has been taking action against energy poverty in Spain.
“Areas of intervention have included residential energy bills, social tariffs, forced household disconnections from utility grids, small-scale energy efficiency interventions and energy retrofits of residential dwellings,” Tirado said.
And according to the researcher, there’s one fundamental step in confronting the main driving forces of energy poverty.
“Engage Spanish government at a local, regional and national level with energy providers, NGOs and civil society,” Tirado said.
“Some of the actions proposed include introducing legislative changes and relief funds to address the issue of forced household disconnections from utility grids.
“Other approaches include policy reforms and financial schemes for residential energy efficiency retrofits with the aim to prioritise vulnerable households and those less capable of leveraging their own investment,” he said.
“Fostering training programs for vulnerable groups on topics like energy use behaviour, domestic energy efficiency or applying to the social tariff and energy efficiency retrofit schemes have also been proposed.”
For further details contact: Sergio Tirado, Research Associate, RMIT Europe, email@example.com
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