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Trapped in the heat: A post-communist type of fuel poverty


Fuel poverty is a still insufficiently researched social and energy challenge with significant climate change implications. Based on evidence from Hungarian panel apartment blocks connected to district heating, this paper introduces a new variant of fuel poverty that may not be properly captured by existing fuel poverty indicators. This newly defined variant can be largely attributed to post-communist legacies – though it might also exist in other contexts – and assumes that consumers living in poor-efficiency, district-heated buildings are trapped in dwellings with adequate indoor temperatures but disproportionately high heating costs because (a) changing supplier or fuel is difficult because of the existing technical and institutional constraints, and (b) they do not realistically have the option to reduce individually their heating costs through individual efficiency improvements. This situation often translates into payment arrears, indebtedness, risk of disconnection, or reduced consumption of other basic goods and services. State-supported policy responses to date have favoured symptomatic solutions (direct consumer support) combined with superficial retrofits, though it is argued that only state-of-the-art retrofits such as the passive house-based SOLANOVA pilot project in Dunaújváros can fully eradicate fuel poverty in this consumer group.