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energy poverty

Many people around the world find it difficult to heat and/or cool their homes to a safe and comfortable temperature. Rather than simply being a problem of energy costs or low incomes, energy poverty is best conceptualized as resulting from a mix of problems related to the energy efficiency of homes, types and costs of energy supplies, and the individual biographies of householders. My masters research at East Carolina University sought to explore how these factors come together to produce energy poverty in eastern North Carolina. GIS, in-depth interviews, and quantitative analysis indicated a number of challenging circumstances that come together in this part of North Carolina: particularly high electricity costs (a legacy of the histories of electricity in North Carolina); volatile heating fuels; a preponderance of energy inefficient housing (especially mobile homes); challenging health situations that require higher energy use; and a restructuring economy that has left many low income people financially precarious. Findings from this research served as the inspiration for my dissertation research at the University of North Carolina.

I am currently reengaged in my energy poverty research with a Department of Energy sponsored project that is assembling a household-level energy efficiency database that will help energy efficiency programs target households most in need of assistance. The project includes a range of partners: North Carolina State University, Vermont School of Law, North Carolina Justice Center, the Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments, and several small municipal and cooperative electric utilities. One other partner, Resispeak, produces a tool that pulls household level energy consumption data on a daily (and in some cases hourly) basis from the utilities. With this key piece of data, and in combination with data about the house itself (its age, construction type, etc.), we will produce a powerful tool for analyzing the variable geographies of energy poverty in northeastern North Carolina that will be shared with utilities and other groups aiming to help vulnerable households.

Publications in this area include:

Harrison, C. and J. Popke. 2011. ‘Because You Got to Have Heat’: Fuel Poverty, Weatherization, and Landscapes of Care. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101(4): 949-961.