Energy poverty in Cañada Real

 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)

Some 4,000 people in Madrid, almost half of the inhabitants of La Cañada Real, have experienced a situation of extreme energy poverty. That is one of the conclusions of a report by researchers at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) that analyzes the energy uses and needs of the population of La Cañada Real Galiana, between 2020 and 2022.

The Cañada Real Galiana, as it passes through the Community of Madrid, crosses the municipalities of Coslada, Madrid, Rivas-Vaciamadrid and Getafe. Along 16 kilometers there are irregular buildings with a wide variety of constructions (from chalets to substandard housing) in which around 8,000 people live. This route is divided into 6 sectors with different characteristics in terms of infrastructure or purchasing power of its inhabitants and with different future regarding the legalization of the settlement; being sectors 5 and 6, especially the latter, the ones with the worst conditions of basic habitability. More than 3 years ago, the electricity supply was cut off in these sectors, leaving more than 4,000 people without energy, of which about 1,800 were minors.

"We started the research on September 29, 2020 (after signing a collaboration agreement with the Community of Madrid) and just three days later, on October 2, there was a power cut in sectors 5 and 6," relates one of the researchers, Jorge Martínez Crespo, Associate Professor in the UC3M Department of Electrical Engineering. "We then focused on the impact of this power outage on the homes in these sectors and measured the environmental conditions inside the homes," he adds.

What they found evidences a global panorama of high social vulnerability, with extreme situations of cold and heat depending on the seasons. "It is possible, and even common in homes with several indicators of precariousness (low income, poor building quality, inadequate equipment or homes affected by disconnections), to identify temperatures in the rooms most frequently used below 10°C in winter or even above 40°C in summer," notes another of the researchers, Ulpiano Ruiz-Rivas Hernando, head of the Appropriate Technologies for Sustainable Development Group at UC3M.

"These types of measures allow us to identify what the circumstances are there and should allow political action to solve these problems," says Ulpiano Ruiz-Rivas. In this sense, the report recommends restoring the electricity supply in sector 6, lacking light since October 2020. "It does not seem justifiable that after the abrupt cut in supply more than three years ago, no structural measures have been implemented," say the authors of the study, recently published in the scientific journal Energy Research & Social Science by Ulpiano Ruiz-Rivas and Jorge Martínez-Crespo together with Sergio Tirado-Herrero (Autonomous University of Madrid) and Raùl Castaño Rosa (University of Tampere, Finland). The four regret that a diversification of supply has not already been undertaken, given the existence of other medium voltage power lines in the area that could alleviate the overload. They also regret the lack of a call for tenders to develop collective self-consumption facilities based on the nearest public facilities.

The power cut also posed a "threat" to other sectors of the Cañada Real, according to the researchers. In view of which, the inhabitants of the area looked for alternative sources of supply, such as solar panels or diesel generators, which can be seen today along different points of the route and which represent the fundamental change in terms of electricity generation or production. "As a result of the emergency situation created by the disconnection of the electricity supply, an increase in precariousness and the emergence of cases of extreme energy poverty hardly to be found in other areas of the EU or in general in the global North", states the project report.

To carry out this research, the analysis of census data of the entire population of La Cañada was combined with a more specific study of a sample of households. To this end, on the one hand, interviews were conducted on energy uses and needs and, on the other hand, there were campaigns to measure indoor environment conditions in homes, together with temporary monitoring of the continuity of electricity supply in sectors 5 and 6 of La Cañada. This approach is what made it possible to visualize and characterize the problems linked to energy access faced by the population of the Cañada Real Galiana, the researchers indicate.

A situation that generates some controversy in this area is the drug market, which is located approximately one kilometer inside sector 6. "That, logically, can have an energy impact, because there is a large demand for electricity for marijuana plantations, but we have not taken measures in that area. But what we have been able to measure is the impact of an intervention in a marijuana plantation, with the destruction of the electrical installation in the area and the consequent interruption of the supply in a certain area, affecting other neighbors who live nearby and who have nothing to do with it", said Jorge Martínez.

This project has received funding from the XIII Convocatoria de Ayudas para Proyectos de Cooperación de la UC3M, in addition to the support of the Consejo Social de la UC3M through two grants for social commitment actions in the framework of sustainable development at the University in the 2020 and 2021 calls.