A group of 13 universities, think tanks and businesses across Europe, are joining together to help people tackle the issue of fuel or energy poverty, through a new knowledge hub – the European Energy Poverty Observatory (EPOV).

Coordinated by Dr Harriet Thomson and Professor Stefan Bouzarovski from the University of Manchester, the three-year project will aim to transform understanding about the extent of fuel poverty in Europe, and bring about innovative policies and practices to address it. Launching in December 2017, EPOV will be a user-friendly, open-access resource, bringing together data from across Europe.

The €813,000 European Commission-funded project has an Advisory Board of over 50 leading stakeholders from across Europe, including the MEP for Northwest England, Theresa Griffin, who is chair of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats’ working group on energy poverty, and Adrian Joyce, Secretary General of the European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings, EuroACE, and Campaign Director of pressure group Renovate Europe. Other consortium members include the European Policy Centre, National Energy Action, environmental thinktank the Wuppertal Institute, the Greek Centre for Renewable Energy Sources and Saving, Spanish body ECODES, the EU Fuel Poverty Network and social housing body Housing Europe.

Recognition of fuel poverty is growing across Europe, and the issue has been identified as a policy priority in the European Commission’s flagship Clean Energy package announced on 30 November 2016. Europe-wide, fuel poverty affects over 50 million households. People are battling to pay their bills on time, combat damp and mould in their home, and achieve adequate levels of energy services such as heating, cooling and lighting in their homes.

Harriet Thomson said: “There’s a growing integration of fuel poverty analysis and policy in European Commission activities – so it’s now more important than ever to build a specialist network of stakeholders working on fuel poverty in Europe.”

“The EU Observatory will not only help people to access information on the extent of fuel poverty across European Member States – it will also make available information on measures to combat it. There will be comprehensive, innovative and evidence-based practice and policy frameworks.”

It is widely agreed that fuel poverty across Europe is due to high energy prices, low household incomes, inefficient buildings and appliances, and specific household energy needs. Living in fuel poverty is linked to ill health – with respiratory and cardiac illnesses, and mental health, exacerbated due to low temperatures and stress associated with unaffordable energy bills.

Dr Thomson continued: “Fuel poverty has an indirect effect on many policy areas – including health, environment and productivity. So addressing it would bring multiple benefits, including less money spent by governments on health, reduced air pollution, better comfort and wellbeing, improved household budgets and increased economic activity.

“EPOV will be of great benefit to many people from international bodies such as the UN, scientists, think-tanks, and national and supranational decision makers, to social and health care workers, advocacy groups and housing providers.”