7 Facts About Energy Poverty in BulgariaThe initial and commonly held definition of energy poverty is a lack of access to energy sources; therefore, Bulgaria is free of energy poverty. According to the research organization Our World in Data, 100% of Bulgarians had access to energy as of 2016. However, if we expand the definition of energy poverty to include factors like energy efficiency and access to clean fuels, Bulgaria has a severe energy poverty issue. This article will discuss seven facts about energy poverty in Bulgaria.

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Data on energy poverty in Bulgaria is limited. However, a 2018 report by the European Union Energy Poverty Observatory stated that Bulgaria performs worse than the EU average on certain measurements, including the percentage of households that could keep their homes adequately warm in 2017. A 2014 report from the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE) stated that more than 67% of Bulgarians went without sufficient heat in winter 2008 because they couldn’t afford it. The EU average was 8%.

The IAEE report noted that “specific measures and social policies” for three key factors of energy poverty in Bulgaria are “ineffective.” These include low income, high energy prices and poor-quality buildings because they focus on a limited part of the population with a limited standard of heat. What’s more, the 2019 European Energy Poverty Index by data firm OpenExp ranked Bulgaria last of all EU nations for a set of factors including energy expenditures, winter discomfort, summer discomfort and quality of dwellings. These and other sources delve into the factors behind these rankings and into Bulgaria’s energy poverty issue in general.

7 Facts About Energy Poverty in Bulgaria

  1. Energy poverty has been linked to a state of post-socialist recovery. According to the book “Energy Poverty in Eastern Europe: Hidden Geographies of Deprivation” by Stefan Buzar, energy poverty has emerged across former communist/Soviet Union nations. In fact, half of the modern six nations that partly comprise the communist Eastern Bloc and are now EU members rank in the bottom 10 of the 2019 European Energy Poverty Index.
  2. Incomes are too low even for relatively low energy prices. Even though energy prices are low compared to other EU countries, Bulgarians’ incomes are proportionally low. The IAEE noted 22% of Bulgaria’s population were living in poverty in 2012/2013. That equated to around 1.6 million people. At that time, the nation’s minimum salary was 158 Euros per month, but it had an average salary of 408 per month. As such, based on the U.K.’s definition of fuel poverty, residents spent at least 10% of their household income to heat their homes to an acceptable level of warmth. Typical Bulgarians were fuel poor from at least 1999 through 2012, according to National Statistical Institute data.
  3. The expense issue is also due to inefficient energy use and resources. For one, homes are not well-built for heating. A 2012 report showed the construction of 65% of existing homes occurred before 1990. At least 800,000 residences were prefabricated buildings. The kinds of homes have poor thermal insulation. In Bulgaria, daytime winter temperatures average 32-41 degrees Fahrenheit. Furthermore, electricity accounts for 42% of Bulgarian energy consumption sources, instead of the much cheaper source of gas. This is partly because Bulgaria has an underdeveloped gas supply network.
  4. Residents have protested prices more than once. Protests over high electricity bills erupted in 2013 despite a mild, and thus less expensive, 2012 winter. The government responded by refraining from letting prices increase the next year. However, in 2018, thousands took to streets in several cities to protest high fuel prices.
  5. To save money, Bulgarians have turned to dangerous alternative heating sources to electricity. In addition to protests, Bulgarians fight high electricity expenses by measures that risk their quality of life. They underheat their homes or rely on coal and wood. This causes more air pollution, according to the Palgrave Macmillan book “Energy Demand Challenges in Europe.”
  6. Energy poverty in Bulgaria is widespread. The EU Energy Poverty Observatory reported that “some socio-economic groups are known to be particularly vulnerable to energy poverty.” However, that is not the only factor. Location, which energy carrier the people have access to and the housing situation can all play a part.
  7. The Bulgarian government is making at least some effort. The Energy Efficiency Act created the Bulgarian Energy Efficiency and Renewable Sources Fund (EERSF) to support and finance energy efficiency projects in the country. It hopes to increase renewable energy sources for residence and public buildings. Hydrothermal, geothermal and solar energy are among those eligible to receive funds.

These seven facts about energy poverty in Bulgaria show that it is a real issue despite the country’s World Bank status as an upper-middle-income nation. Too many people can’t afford to properly heat their homes. Due to a lack of access to gas, people must use the more expensive option of electricity or simply underheat their homes. But, there’s hope for the future as government programs exist to offset the problem.

Amanda Ostuni
Photo: Flickr