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17 Jul 2019

Thesis defended on energy vulnerability in Spain and Portugal

Thesis defended on energy vulnerability in Spain and Portugal

By Lise Desvallées

On the 3rd of July 2019, I defended my thesis entitled "Problematizing, politicizing and reducing energy vulnerabilities, between a right to energy and a control of the practices of the poor in Porto and Barcelona" at the École des Ponts et Chaussées. 

This thesis studies the emergence of energy vulnerability in national and local public agendas with an urban political ecology framework. I conducted a comparative survey in two cities (Porto and Barcelona), where the issue is important and treated in different ways. I analyze the factors that combine to create situations of energy vulnerability in these cities and which turn them into public problems, through media, legislation and local innovations. Policy analysis is complemented by study of the concrete conditions of energy vulnerability as they are experienced by households which are in touch with social assistance agencies and charities.

The main result of the thesis is that situations of energy vulnerability are politicized by both new actors and traditional players in energy governance. I show how civil society activism gives rise to a right to energy, which is not enshrined in national legislation and which, under the pressure of new social movements, becomes an imperative for local communities. I then analyze the diffusion of programs targeting vulnerable households, based on a model that aims at reducing consumption and therefore limiting the number of unpaid energy bills. This experimental and inexpensive model meets the interests of organizations from civil society, local communities, energy suppliers and the households themselves who were already reducing their expenses.