In 2021, 29.9 million Europeans could not afford to keep their homes adequately warm, according to EUROSTAT.
The situation depicted in this figure is captured by the energy poverty indicator “Inability to keep home adequately warm’’ which represents the share of the population who declare if they can afford or not to keep their homes at a suitable temperature. This situation is usually considered one of the most obvious consequences of being in energy poverty.
At first sight, this indicator seems ideal for identifying energy poverty, questioning the populations on their capacity to meet their energy needs. However, using a single indicator is far from sufficient to understand all situations of energy poverty. Let's enter into more detail to understand the characteristics of this indicator, its potential, and its limits to measure energy poverty levels.
The indicator “Inability to keep home adequately warm’’ is one of the widely used indicators for measuring energy poverty. 27 countries collected information for this indicator in 2021, as illustrated on the map below. It is an important indicator that measures one of the consequences of energy poverty through the self-assessment of the households regarding their energy needs and ability to satisfy them.
As one of the 21 indicators of the EPAH dashboard of national indicators to measure energy poverty, the EPAH team revised several indicators to provide new levels of disaggregation. For this indicator, information is now available for different categories of data (income quintiles and deciles, dwelling or tenure type and urbanisation density). This disaggregation enables a more detailed analysis of the results to clearly identify the groups or types of housing most affected.
Despite the improved level of detail provided by the revised indicator, it is important to keep in mind that its use has to be nuanced. As mentioned, this indicator depicts an outcome of being in energy poverty. It does not provide information about the reasons behind this inability to keep the home adequately warm. There could be economic reasons (price of energy, lack of resources, etc.), building reasons (energy efficiency of the home, lack of equipment) or other combination of factors that the indicator does not cover. Researchers encourage to couple this indicator with explicative indicators of the causes of energy poverty to provide a better picture of the phenomenon.
This indicator is a subjective indicator, which means that the social and cultural characteristics of households strongly influence the declaration of inability to heat adequately one's home. In fact, what the adequate temperature should be can vary from country to country, even between people. For example, a person in Germany used to central heating might find a particular temperature to be too cold. In contrast, a person in Portugal might find it comfortable and acceptable, as they are used to colder room temperatures. Likewise, an elderly person feels the cold more and appreciates a warmer temperature inside their home.
Studies also show that the perceptions vary with gender and that intra-household dynamics must be studied because differences in perceptions are also between individuals in a single household. For example, two flatmates living in the same apartment with different social habits and standards of thermal comfort might have different perceptions of the ideal comfortable temperature in their household.
Another important limitation is the "denial of reality bias" that researchers point out. Energy-poor people might deny to see themselves as being in an uncomfortable situation and, therefore, do not declare it. This should make the analysis particularly vigilant and reinforces the need to cross indicators for a comprehensive picture. In addition, being energy poor does not occur only in winter, and this indicator does not measure the inability to cool a household during the summer months.
Further guidance on the application and perspective of this indicator can be found in the latest EPAH report ‘’Energy Poverty National Indicators: Insights for a more effective measuring’’ which offers a detailed analysis of all 21 national indicators. In conclusion, the ‘’Inability to keep home adequately warm’’ is a useful indicator that provides information on the situation experienced and lived by households in terms of thermal comfort. Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind that this indicator is most relevant when analysed alongside other indicators to build a comprehensive picture of energy poverty reality by understanding both causes and consequences.
- Publication date
- 3 February 2023
- Directorate-General for Energy