2016 | Dec
One of the new phenomena that have emerged recently in Athens with great intensity is the difficulty of households to have access to adequate energy consumption. Since the outbreak of the Greek debt crisis in 2010 a significant number of households cannot cover their energy needs for heating, cooling, lighting or cooking due to a combination of factors (income cuts, tax increases, rise in unemployment rates, shrinking of welfare benefits, increase in fuel prices, etc.) (Santamouris et al 2013; Πάνας 2012; WWF and Public Issue 2013; Dagoumas & Kitsios 2014) and adopt new individual and collective practices.
This phenomenon, namely the exclusion or the inadequate access of households to energy, which is described as energy poverty and energy deprivation, is at the top of the public debate in Greece and Europe (Healy 2004; Walker & Day 2012; Atanasiu 2014; Santamouris et al 2007). In most cases, however, energy poverty, in the political agenda and the academic discourse, is associated with technical and financial data, such as fuel prices, incomes and the energy efficiency of buildings, without any concern about its geographical aspects which are formed through the production of urban space and especially through the individual and collective practices at different spatial scales (Chatzikonstantinou & Vatavali 2016). In the case of Athens, we argue that the issues of domestic energy consumption and particularly the conflicts and the challenges related with heating can enrich the debate on the impact of the crisis on the socio-spatial relations and inequalities, both at the level of the city and at the level of the apartment building, a type of building which has played a key role in urban development processes in Athens during the postwar era.
Geographies of energy poverty in the Municipality of Athens
The geographical distribution of energy poverty in Athens has been an under-researched topic until today, due to the fact that only recently energy poverty became a significant social problem, to the lack of relevant quantitative data and the difficulties in accessing data at the neighborhood or apartment building level, among other reasons. With this article we intend to create a first macroscopic image of the socio-spatial dimensions of energy poverty, by focusing on the Municipality of Athens. In doing so, we gathered and elaborated primary data about the characteristics and the uses of the buildings, family incomes, energy consumption, as well as about the implemented policies against energy poverty, in order to create a series of thematic maps. The parallel analysis of these thematic maps gives us the chance to draw general and specific conclusions regarding socio-spatial aspects of energy deprivation in Athens during the crisis. This analysis intends to expand the findings of a research project about the emerging geographies of energy poverty in Athens conducted in 2015 through interviews with households that live in apartment buildings in the Municipality of Athens, mapping of quantitative data and policy evaluation .
The data that have been used for the production of thematic maps for the Municipality of Athens have been obtained from public institutions and energy providers. The data of the 2011 Census have been analyzed at the Census Tract level, while the data provided by the General Secretariat of Information Systems and the General Secretariat of Public Revenues of the Ministry of Finance, the Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator S.A. and the Electronic Governance of Social Security S.A. have been analyzed at the level of the post code zones. Finally, we should note that our elaborations have been limited by the difficulties and the restrictions in accessing quantitative primary data (protection of personal and commercial data, bureaucracy, problems of communication with the relevant institutions, etc).
Characteristics of the building stock and infrastructure networks
The majority of the buildings in the Municipality of Athens are apartment buildings that have been constructed during the first post-war decades, through the system of antiparohi (i.e. a land-for-flats barter system). Their construction features , as well as the fact that only a small part has been adequately maintained since their construction, has led to forming a decaying building stock with serious functional problems – especially concerning energy efficiency. The majority of apartment buildings have a central heating system, without individual choice concerning the amount of heating and the timing. In terms of energy resources, the main parameter is the natural gas network in the neighborhood. Where this network is not available, central heating systems have to use heating oil.
Map 1: Regular dwellings without insulation, 2011
Mapping the Census 2011 data produced by the Greek Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), we see that the percentage of buildings having no insulation at all is rather high all over the Municipality of Athens. In the historical centre, as well as in the districts of Agios Pavlos, Attiki square, Kipseli and Patisia, there are enclaves where more than 80% of dwellings do not have any insulation. In peripheral areas of the Municipality (like Sepolia, Ano Patisia, Ano Kipseli, Poligono) and in small enclaves in the city centre (e.g. the areas around Lycabettus hill) residences lacking insulation are fewer; a fact related to the higher rate of buildings constructed after 1979 –when insulation became obligatory for new buildings (Official Gazette 362D΄/1979).
Map 2: Households using heating oil as the main energy resource for heating, 2011
Map 3: Households using natural gas as the main energy resource for heating, 2011
The use of gas oil as the main energy resource for heating is very high in the peripheral neighborhoods of the Municipality of Athens (Ampelokipi, Gkizi, Ano Kipseli, Ano Patisia, Rizoupoli, Promponas, Sepolia, Akadimia Platona, Petralona, Gouva, Neos Kosmoa) and low in central areas (Historical-commercial triangle, Agios Panteleimonas, Kato Patisia, Exarhia, Mousio, Neapoli, Kolonaki, Ilisia, Pagkrati, Koukaki, Thisio, Metaxourgio, Keramikos, Gkazi), while the general picture regarding the use of natural gas as a main resource for heating is exactly the opposite. This is related to the expansion of the natural gas distribution network which covers a big part of the central areas of Athens from the very beginning of the 20th century. Moreover, despite the fact that since 2000 “the use of oil gas for heating water and spaces of residences is forbidden in the historic centre of Athens” (Official Gazette 239B΄/2000) – according to the data of ELSTAT (2011) – the use of oil gas for domestic heating remains high, although it is relatively lower than in other areas of the Municipality of Athens.
Domestic energy consumption
Despite the fact that it is hard – not to mention impossible in some cases – to get access to quantitative data regarding domestic energy consumption in Greece, existing surveys provide an overview of the trends that appeared since the outbreak of the financial crisis. One of the conclusions of these surveys is that energy consumption has been reduced steeply  and that households have switched to more affordable fuel sources in order to satisfy their energy needs .
As far as Athens is concerned, no official documentation of the problem has been produced, and this is the reason why the overview of the energy poverty issues can only be achieved by combining data from various sources. According to the General Director of Attiki Gas Supply Company (EPA ATTIKIS), households living in about 33% of the apartment buildings in Athens in winter 2012-2013 and in about 44% in winter 2013-2014, did not use the central heating system . Moreover, according to data of the Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator S.A. (HEDNO), the electric power consumption in the Municipality of Athens was reduced by 12% per residence from 2008 to 2015. Also, the consumption of oil gas in the Metropolitan Area of Athens was reduced from 920,664tn in 2008 to 271,792tn in 2013, namely by 70.5% (ELSTAT 2016b). Apart from the shrinkage of income and the international rise in fuel prices, this reduction is directly related to the implemented policies and especially to the rise in the taxes on oil gas, which was imposed aiming at the reduction of the black market in fuel and the increase of state revenues.
Map 4: Change in domestic electricity consumption, 2008-2015
From 2008 to 2015, electric power consumption has been reduced all over the Municipality of Athens, except from some small enclaves in the central areas, where it has slightly increased. The extent of reduction varies greatly. In particular, in some central areas (Omonia, Vathis square, Metaxourgio, Psirri, Gerani) reductions are rather high, varying from 25% to 40% per consumer. High reductions in electric power consumption are spotted also in areas between Patission Avenue and the metro-line 1, as well as in the areas of Mousio, Plaka and Kolonaki. The reduction of electricity consumption is lower in the northern parts of the Municipality (Ano Patisia, Rizoupoli, Prompona), as well as in the areas of Poligono, Girokomio and Ampelokipi.
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