On the 4th of May 2022 Rasmus Andresen, a member of the European Parliament, posted a Tweet in which he claims that more than 30 million Europeans live in energy poverty. This claim turns out to be mostly false.
What is energy poverty?
According to Marine Cornelis, an expert in energy policy and consumer rights, energy poverty is a condition in which people can’t fulfill their energy needs. They can’t heat or cool their home properly and can’t cook or store food. It is a complex issue because it is very context specific. Meaning that in developing countries the problem is usually linked to the connection to electricity. Whether in Europe for example, it is more a systemic problem that is linked to energy prices.
To which she adds: “One of the most important indicators is for example the income status. Households with low income are more likely to live in energy poverty. Another indicator is energy efficiency. When your home is not isolated well enough, you will pay a large amount of money on the energy bill to have a decent temperature inside. Other indicators are racism, gender, age, …”
It is not clear what source Rasmus Andresen bases his statement on. We have been in contact with his secretary, Judith Wedel. She managed to tell us that Mr. Andresen has the number from a speech by Ursula von der Leyen, but she couldn’t provide us with the right speech. We reached out to President von der Leyen’s team. Karen Saelens, the secretary of Kurt Vandenberghe who is the European Green Deal adviser, provided us with one of the reports von der Leyen uses in her speeches. This report of the European Commission from July 2021 states that “Energy poverty alone affects up to 34 million people in the European Union today.”
This number can also be found in an earlier report of the European Commission from October 2020. It says: “With nearly 34 million Europeans unable to afford to keep their homes adequately warm in 2018, energy poverty is a major challenge for the EU.” Other studies such as the Council Of Europe Development Bank (CEB) studies from 2019 use approximately the same number.
Can there be a stagnation?
It seemed strange to us that the number of energy poverty in the European Union hadn’t evolved from 2018 to 2021. So, we approached energy policy expert Marine Cornelis. She told us this number has probably tripled by now. “Preliminary data suggest that about 80 million people in the EU are in energy poverty right now”, she explained. There are many reasons for this, including the pandemic and its impact on employment. Also due to rising energy prices and the war in Ukraine and therefore the Russian blackmail of gas. It’s everything put together.
Mara Florina Oprea, Junior Project Officer at the Institute for European Energy and Climate Policy, is on the same page. “It is a hundred percent sure that we have been experiencing more energy poverty in the EU”, she confirms. But she could not give us an exact figure. “It’s probable that the number has tripled, but I don’t think that you can know that for certain. That’s because the definition of energy poverty is so broad”, she adds.
Why has the European Commission always used the same number in these last few years? That’s due to the unavailability of more recent data. The world was put on hold by the pandemic since 2019. Therefore, the figures haven’t been calculated or updated.
Another reason is that not every country keeps track of the numbers quite as well. “Some member states of the EU seem to have a higher number of energy poverty. That’s because they chose to see the problem and they chose to acknowledge it. So there is more data available”, explains Cornelis. “It’s not because a country has good numbers, that it’s really the case. Mostly it’s just based on a lack of datasets. This makes it even harder to calculate the number of people who live in energy poverty.”
Rasmus Andresen’s claim is mostly false. The number (more than 30 million) is correct, but it’s outdated. The number has increased since 2018 and it will keep on evolving. According to Oprea, energy poverty is not only extending to vulnerable groups anymore, but also to regular middle-class people. It’s now an increasingly large population of the EU. The European Commission is of course obliged to use data they know for certain, hence why they have been using the number of energy poverty from 2018. But it would be great if they came up with a disclaimer that said: this number isn’t accurate anymore.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Angelina Bombello and Eline Cornelis, Artevelde University of Applied Sciences , BE
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