Monday, September 27

Cocktail of energy poverty and heat wave: “I’m afraid my bill will skyrocket”

The rise in the price of electricity and the heat wave once again threatens millions of people exposed to energy poverty. Juani does not have the air conditioning working in his house. In this way you want to avoid an unpayable bill for your pocket seen the bombardment of news about the rise in the energy bill. It’s six o’clock. There is no one on the street in the Madrid neighborhood of Vallecas where he lives and most of the shops are closed. In the home of this 49-year-old woman, the thermometer reads 30 degrees. Outside the temperature shoots up to 40.

“When we can no longer put the fan on for five minutes. I am very afraid that my bill will go off ”, he explains. Friends he’s spending Friday afternoon with take trips to the kitchen to cool off by getting their faces wet. And they use the shirt to fan themselves and reduce sweat from their faces. He keeps the windows open, although to avoid the entry of the sun he has hung some fabrics that reduce the rays that reach the rooms. Juani, who works as a cleaner, has not had a permanent contract for a long time. To avoid increasing the debts you have with the electricity company, you choose to reduce your electricity consumption.

The data published in the National Strategy against Energy Poverty They estimate that “between 3.5 and 8.1 million people, depending on the indicator used, are in a situation of energy poverty in Spain”. The report defines this concept as “the situation in which a household finds itself in which the basic needs of energy supplies cannot be satisfied, as a consequence of an insufficient level of income and that, where appropriate, may be aggravated by have an energy inefficient home ”. With regard to the Community of Madrid, 26.4% of the population recognized that there was an inappropriate temperature in their home in summer, according to a survey carried out in 2012 and cited in the national roadmap.

The highest in the region during this latest heat wave will be marked in the municipality of Aranjuez. The State Meteorological Agency of Spain (AEMET) predicts that the highest temperatures will reach 43 degrees. In the capital, they will mark two degrees less. In many families the arrival of the heat wave is welcomed with no resources to pay the electricity bill that would allow to keep the house at an adequate temperature. As with the cold in winter.

In Lola and Nacho’s house the heat during these days cannot be fought either. “With the increase in the price of electricity this year, I haven’t even bothered to look for a fan,” says this 24-year-old mother of three girls. The eldest, Yaiza (seven years old), has a disability of 77% and according to her mother’s account she is the one who “suffers the most” from this situation. “It is the one that has the worst time because it does not move,” adds Lola.

After several sentences urging them to leave the house they occupied in June 2019, two associations began a fundraiser to give them a second chance. Since February they have been living in a basement in the Aluche neighborhood after the social groups assumed the income equivalent to one year so that Lola and Nacho had a mattress to help them reorganize their lives.

They have both found work. “Now we are like any mileurista family that arrives adjusted at the end of the month,” explains Lola. As he points out, they assume electricity bills that range between “60 and 70 euros.” “And we have a social bonus and they give us a 40% discount on the invoice ”, he adds. To prevent the accounts from getting out of balance, they have no choice but to opt for resignation: “We survive the heat as best we can.” The nights at home are complicated, she admits that they sleep “fatally” and regrets that the high temperatures are taking a toll on her daughters’ room: “It is much tighter and it is where it is most noticeable.”

Health consequences

“Fighting a heat wave is very complicated, probably the most difficult thing in these homes [de familias vulnerables]”, Explains Ivón Cermeño, director of the Socaire project, which since 2018 has been carrying out social interventions to fight against situations of energy poverty. And remember that this shortage to meet the bills directly affects health: “Living in a house with a lot of heat causes problems to rest. Babies can have growth complications; adolescents, mental illness. In the elderly it causes chronicity of some diseases ”.

An article published in 2019 researchers from the Polytechnic University of Madrid and the Higher Council for Scientific Research concluded that in the city of Madrid energy poverty is “a phenomenon exclusive to the urban periphery.” “It is found that there is an accumulation of circumstances that cause energy poverty in the same neighborhoods: high energy demands due to poor quality of the building, inefficient heating installations using electric radiators and low income levels,” the researchers explain.

To combat cases of energy poverty in the city, the Socaire association carries out social interventions in working-class neighborhoods. In Vallecas, where Juani resides, they acted throughout 2020 in seventy houses and focused on two aspects: increasing savings on energy bills and improving home comfort. In the activity memory Of this project, they highlight that “a vast majority of the houses studied are older than 50 years old and, with that, poor construction qualities.”

Guadalupe, Juani’s neighbor, defends that the high temperatures they reach in their homes is due to the materials with which they were built. “The whole house is made of plasterboard, which takes much more heat,” he explains. “During the day I put down the blinds to let in light and as soon as the sun goes down, I raise it and open everything to ventilate”, he adds. In his home there is no air conditioning or fan. To fall asleep, he says he uses damp towels to refresh the bed.

Interventions to improve housing efficiency

With the families they work with, the Cermeño team considers it essential to tackle the adjustment of bills. “Oddly enough, there are vulnerable families that have rates above the market price. They call them, make offers with great products that are not real and take them out of the social bonus ”, says the director of Socaire. From there, they focus on the energy efficiency of the home with small interventions such as insulating windows – some are found with broken glass -, promoting the use of LED bulbs and combating the phantom consumption of some electrical appliances. “Our studies say that we reduce household consumption by 10% and the price of the bill by 20%,” adds Cermeño.

According to the figures collected in the association’s activity reports, in Vallecas most of the homes visited did not have air conditioning, only 13 of seventy families had this equipment and in two cases the facility was in “poor condition”. For their part, 13 of the 35 houses that intervened in Moratalaz did have a cooling system.

Facing these days, with maximums that in some municipalities of the Community such as Aranjuez can reach 43 degrees, Cermeño’s first recommendation is to “have air conditioning”, an unattainable luxury for most of these families. If this equipment is not available, he suggests the use of “small fans” and “playing with the isolations”. “If there are no awnings, at least lower the blinds during the central hours of the day so that all the heat does not enter,” he highlights.

Some affected by energy poverty have chosen to leave Madrid this weekend to avoid the high temperatures. Arantxa, her husband and their two children have gone to the house of one of their relatives in Toledo. This woman has been increasing her debt with the electric company for months. “Right now, paying for electricity would mean taking me out of the rent, and being thrown out of my house again,” he justifies himself. The dishwasher and air conditioning have not been used for months. “It doesn’t even occur to me,” says Arantxa. And the fan only turns on for your children to fall asleep: “We program it for an hour until they go to sleep.”