«Where No One is Poor, and Energy is Abundant»: A Study of Energy Poverty in Norwegian Households

FNI Report 2/2020. Lysaker, FNI, 2020, 85 p.

Almost 50 million EU citizens are affected by energy poverty, which is generally defined as inadequate use of domestic energy services. However, while extensive research has been conducted on the implications that some dimensions of energy poverty, such as high energy costs and cold homes have on households in the EU, very little is known about this in the context of Norway. Norway is one of the most income-equal countries in the world as well as a country with historically low electricity prices. Despite this however, if some Norwegian households continue to live in energy poverty, they may endure the double trauma of being energy poor while not being recognized as such. The aim of this qualitative study is to explore how Norwegian households experience, cope and make changes in response to energy poverty, from changing their use of energy services to maintaining social relations and a preferred lifestyle. The main research question guiding this report is: how do vulnerable households in Norway experience energy poverty in everyday life? The data material for the study was collected through semi-structured interviews conducted with 18 members from 17 households experiencing energy poverty. The interviewees were recruited using a variation of recruitment approaches, such as gatekeepers, snowballing and hand-picking cases. Findings are analyzed and discussed drawing on concepts from practice theory. The study finds that lack of financial independence, social capital in the form of family, social and material dimensions to housing and energy consumption as well as normative expectations of energy use have implications for how energy poverty is experienced by households. Most interviewees have little perceived agency to ameliorate their situation. A group of younger interviewees feel marginalized having to limit energy use extensively, cut food costs, rely on financial support from parents and isolate themselves to pay high energy costs in the colder months. They feel unable to live “normal” lives and struggle with feelings of shame, embarrassment, and stigma. A group of older interviewees are less vulnerable having more stable sources of income, drawing on cheap or free firewood as well as having stronger social capital in the form of their children. This group primarily struggles with maintaining an adequate indoor temperature and rarely mentions making sacrifices in other areas. Rather, these interviewees express having learned to live within the boundaries of their financial means and having found strength in careful management of their financial means.