Research has provided the EU with a new fuel poverty measurement tool and focused attention on the 54 million European households struggling to heat and power their homes.

Impacts

  • Dr Harriet Thomson's easy to understand colour-coded index of energy poverty across EU member states provided policymakers with new measures of the extent of fuel poverty, and new information on its drivers in different countries.
  • Her highlighting of substantial gaps in knowledge about EU fuel poverty helped change how fuel poverty is addressed in the EU. Previously opposed to tackling the issue, since 2014 the EU has invested more than €1 million in defining and measuring the problem.
  • She established the EU Fuel Poverty Network, now a leading online platform for information about fuel poverty, and a resource used by MEPs.
  • Dr Thomson has influenced the development and framing of new EU policy approaches to fuel poverty and advised European Commission-funded studies on energy poverty indicators. Her research featured in a 2016 UK House of Commons Library Briefing Paper, and an EU policy handbook, published by the Greens/European Free Alliance Group in the European Parliament.
  • She advised the Socialist and Democrats Group in the European Parliament on its 2016 Energy Poverty Manifesto, leading to a new European Parliament resolution.
  • She led a successful pan-European consortium bid to run the EU Observatory on Energy Poverty, which aims to transform knowledge of energy poverty in Europe, and measures to combat it.

"Both Harriet's Masters research and the associated PhD research to address the analytical gaps in policy and statistical understanding of fuel poverty have changed how energy poverty is considered at European level." (Theresa Griffin, MEP, North West of England)

About the research

Dr Thomson came across the topic for her PhD research when working at an energy services company that upgraded fuel-poor households into more fuel-efficient homes. "I was really struck by how a relatively minor intervention in terms of energy efficiency measures could make a really huge difference to people's everyday quality of life," she says.

"Living in fuel poverty is incredibly stressful as well as bad for mental health and wellbeing," she points out. "Worrying about how to pay the next bill, feeling too ashamed to invite people into your home because it's damp and cold, rationing energy use for everyday appliances like fridges or computers – those are the kinds of issues faced by about 4.5 million households in the UK."

Thinking about the problem beyond the UK, however, Dr Thomson could find no recent pan-European figures. "Fuel poverty, or energy poverty as it's also called, wasn't really seen as a major issue by the EU five years ago," she says.

Devising a simple, visual, colour-coded country ranking system of fuel poverty at the household level enabled her to illustrate the problem with numbers. "That's really helped me to bring the subject into the spotlight and change how EU decision-makers think about the issue."

The enormity of that change, she says, is demonstrated by the European Commisson's 2016 Clean Energy for All Europeans legislative proposals which call for EU member states to define and measure energy poverty, and direct energy efficiency resources at energy-poor households. As newly appointed manager of the EU Observatory on Energy Poverty, Dr Thomson's role will be to help member countries meet these requirements.