Last winter, we were barely aware of Covid-19 and what it may cause. For the last nine months, we gradually changed our lives and work routines to contain contagion. We hope that this will be temporary, and our lives will turn back to normal in a couple of months as vaccine studies will come to rescue us. Hope is a good thing, but there is a rough road ahead.
One of the most problematic subjects is energy poverty. For some, it is defined by the disproportionate share of energy expenditures in a household’s income. Given a threshold for this share, households can be classified by their energy expenditures. Energy poverty is a reality, so does the covid19 and the unemployment and limits of monetary expansion.
Last month, the UK’s Energy Helpline publicized the results of their study on utility bills for this winter. Since most of the homeworkers and their kids, practically all family, will spend their weekdays at home, the natural gas and electricity bills will increase. This is the case for poor workers, too. Some may have to be physically present at their workplaces, but their kids and extended family is probably spent most of their time at home. According to Energy Helpline, this will cost 2 billion pounds to British consumers. This will add an extra of 21.44 pounds (1 day a week home working) to 107.18 pounds(5 days a week) for the utility bills.
The same initiative has another study claiming “45% of homeowners from the poorest background are aware of” greenhouse grants. The same can be said for other countries. The poorest part of the society is less informed about efficiency, energy consumption, and government grants than the rest. But most of the time, they pay a higher proportion of their salaries to utility companies.
In the past, Turkey experimented with an “energy-efficient light bulb.” handovers to school kids. Some of the bulbs were crashed for fear of listening devices, and it is not a joke (“Dinleme cihazı var diye ampülleri kırdılar”, Milliyet, 6 January 2009). There are also rumors like the “other light”(LED, CFL) is harming eyesight and even make you cancer. There is a certain truth about the harmful effect of the blue part of the light. But when you go to a store, if white lights are three shelves, yellow is one shelf. In a simple example like light bulbs, people resist changing their light bulbs, and even if they change, they predominantly opt for the wrong choice.
Generally, the winter period is where the hefty part of heating bills are paid. With little daytime and sunlight, we rely more on artificial light. Most of the people are unaware of the effect of the appliance on their bills. When raging against utility bills, some claim, “they just switch on/off the light and watch TV.” Having all these effects merged into a Covid19 Winter will be detrimental for consumers. Especially poor segments of the energy consumers are in dire need of regulatory mechanisms.
So what has to be done? The first step is to accepting and carrying out an impact assessment. How much does the house occupancy change energy consumption? For each homeworking day, it may add up to 7 hours of boiler energy consumption and electricity consumption attached to it. Then there comes the TV, computers, and lightning. Also, we should not forget about home lunching and hot drinks. This may increase the bills more than any other winter we have seen before.
The second step is to find the poverty line. By contributing 1 kWh electricity or 1 m3 of gas on these people’s budgets should make a health, wealth impact, and increase educational achievement. This is not a solid-red line, but it has to be drawn. The third step, I believe, is the regulatory mechanisms for installing the bills up until a year.
The fourth step is information campaigns. The fifth step is community solidarity.
There is no easy way to mitigate energy poverty. As covid19 will hit
the energy-poor worse this winter, we need a better policy framework for the poor and informational awareness for the rest.