Image: University of Birmingham

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has awarded £1.3 million ($1.73 million) to address energy vulnerability and create sustainable energy systems in Latin America.

The Energy Solidarity in Latin America (ESLatinA) project is a research initiative to gain understanding of energy vulnerability in the region and to help decision makers to alleviate it.

Energy vulnerability occurs when households cannot access vital domestic energy services, such as heating, cooling and powering appliances, because of systemic problems including unreliable or poor quality infrastructure, gender differences in energy access, high energy prices, social isolation or intensifying climatic changes.

As such, energy vulnerability extends beyond ‘energy poverty’ as a state of lacking access to electricity or clean cooking facilities to a broader understanding of the dynamics and processes that lead to this and other energy services insufficiencies, according to a statement.

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The project is led by academics at the University of Birmingham and includes researchers from Colombia, Cuba and Mexico, on which countries it will have an in depth focus.

Each of these countries report nearly 100% access to electricity, but not all households are necessarily provided with good quality energy services.

“Around a third of Mexican households cannot access an adequate level of energy services, which has serious consequences for human health and wellbeing. Similar issues exist in Colombia, where average annual electricity interruptions add up to 38 hours per year,” says Project lead Dr. Harriet Thomson, from the University of Birmingham’s School of Social Policy.

“ESLatinA will combine the concepts of energy vulnerability and energy systems resilience to generate inclusive and transformative understanding, evidence and governance, creating the potential to change the way we look at energy policy, not just in Latin America but worldwide.”

None of the three countries have official energy vulnerability related strategies and each is at a different stage in addressing the issue. In Cuba there has been no research or policy attention to energy vulnerability. In Mexico, energy poverty is gaining increasing policy attention and a pilot monitoring observatory was launched last year. Only Colombia has recognised energy poverty as a policy priority but has not yet instituted mechanisms for measurement or alleviation.

The project has four key objectives. These are to transform the extent of knowledge on energy vulnerability in Latin America, to build capacity and knowledge sharing among academics, policy makers and communities, to activate new mechanisms for improving the resilience of energy systems and to create action plans to address energy vulnerability.

These will be achieved with local and national-level household surveys, participatory workshops and proposals for new governance and legal frameworks. The project will also establish national monitoring observatories and undertake national-scale energy systems vulnerability mapping and local-level assessment modelling.

Other outcomes should include a diagnosis toolkit and energy literacy workshops.