Where does fuel poverty exist?

In Greece, the perfect storm for fuel poverty

Whether old or new, many Greek dwellings are the enemy of their inhabitants. The vast majority are simply not well insulated: 32% of homes in Athens recently received an energy efficiency rating of 'Category H' on a scale that spans from A to G in most European countries.

On that foundation, the ongoing economic crisis has pushed many people past the tipping point. Since May 2012, unemployment has been stubbornly above 20% (peaking at 27% in 2013), meaning many households are trying to make ends meet on substantially reduced incomes. As the crisis began, heating oil prices almost tripled as the global market spiked and the Greek government added new taxes.

But there is also a boom cycle element to the current situation: although the Greek government introduced insulation requirements into building codes in 1979, they were largely ignored during the rapid construction of the 1990s. A shortage of inspectors meant no one was verifying compliance, and owners of relatively recent homes now find their properties to be substandard.

But high levels of collective, oil-based heating in apartment buildings, particularly in large cities such as Athens and Thessaloniki, are making the fuel poverty situation even worse than it should be. In such buildings, if 50% of residents (whether owners or renters) can no longer pay their energy bills, the oil supply is cut off completely.

Mrs. Katerina Hatzivasileiou is a classic case: still professionally employed, fuel bills are not a problem for her – but staying adequately warm is. She is reduced to using electric room heaters while her radiators stand cold.

In the winter of 2012/13, all of Athens suffered from fuel poverty in a different way. Vast numbers of households returned to using fireplaces for heating, burning almost any wood or waste they could acquire cheaply. The air was thick with smog as levels of small particulate matter jumped by 30% in mid-December. Worse yet, the concentrations of organic compounds known to cause cancer increased fivefold during this period. These pollution spikes could lead to higher health costs for Greece down the road, as these small particles can lodge in lung tissue and trigger health conditions that only become evident many years later.