Where does fuel poverty exist?

Summer heat drives fuel poverty in Spain

Blazing sun drives up indoor temperatures in Sevilla, where few buildings have central air-conditioning. Photo: R.  Cataño-Rosa

Blazing sun drives up indoor temperatures in Sevilla, where few buildings have central air-conditioning. Photo: R. Cataño-Rosa

Raúl Castaño-Rosa, University of Seville & Marilyn Smith, EnAct

Day-time highs of 40°C (112°F) are not unusual in Sevilla, Cordoba and other cities in the south of Spain during July and August. But the financial crisis that has plagued the country since 2008 is making scorching days much more unbearable for many more residents. Their situation draws attention to the reality that fuel poverty is not only about being 'COLD@HOME', in regions with cold winters and for people living in cooler homes, or only about long-standing root problems such as old, poorly constructed dwellings.

In this case, relatively new factors – high unemployment, austerity measures and reforms to energy policy and energy pricing – are putting people into a home-style pressure cooker when it comes to managing budgets and trying to keep adequately cool.

Between 2006 and 2012, the rate of Spanish households who couldn't afford adequate heating in winter rose from 6% to 9%; those in arrears on utility bills rose from 4% to 6%. Over the same period, a staggering 25% of households self-reported they could no longer afford to keep comfortably cool in summer.[1], [2] These percentages translate to 7 million people who live in unhealthy conditions, in homes that are very cold in winter and/or very hot in summer.

An annual 7 200 deaths can now be attributed to energy poverty in Spain, according to the World Health Organisation. In 2010, pre-mature deaths attributed to energy poverty exceeded those from car accidents.

Yet the issue of fuel poverty was largely unrecognised in Spain until the late 2000s, when a report published by the Asociación de Ciencias Ambientales identified improving the energy efficiency of homes as a potential means of stimulating employment (Tirado Herrero et al., 2012).[3]  This report stimulated further investigation of the interplay of factors driving up fuel poverty in the country, finding that the economic crisis, unemployment and rising prices all played key roles, while geography and climate led to zones where the incidence of fuel poverty was particularly high. Action to address the situation are underway, but are less effective than they could be.


[1] Tirado Herrero et al., 2014.
[2] The ACA defines energy poverty as the inability of a household to meet a minimum amount of energy services that satisfy basic needs, such as maintaining a home temperature of 18-20°C in the winter and 25°C during the summer.  www.wwf.gr/crisis-watch/crisis-watch/energy-climate/10-energy-climate/energy-poverty-rises-in-spain
[3] Energy poverty in Spain. Potential for direct employment generation of residential energy efficiency retrofit. http://www.cienciasambientales.org.es/index.php/repex-rehabilitacion-energetica.html