A socio-techno economic analysis of energy and transport poverty in Northern Ireland

  • Christopher Lowans

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


It is a widely held position in the literature that the current energy transition should be a Just Transition. This is considered a moral imperative, and a practical choice as it seeks to preserve the legitimacy of governments and businesses through the ongoing energy transition. However, energy and transport poverty present significant barriers to this Just Transition in distributional terms and in terms of recognition. These conditions are difficult to quantify, and definitions abound. Nonetheless, the need to address these interlinked issues is increasingly relevant to policy makers due to the energy price consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the Covid-19 pandemic prior to this.

This work primarily considers Northern Ireland, and to a lesser extent, Republic of Ireland, which are two jurisdictions with many current and potential groups vulnerable to both energy and transport poverty. The initial stages of this work reviewed and analysed the body of literature, from both the academic and policy worlds to understand and critique both the conceptualisation of energy and transport poverty and how they are measured. This initial work concluded that single indicators should be replaced by new composite or multiple existing metrics that examine the overlap of energy and transport poverty and that in the case of composite metrics, these should be the focus of further study alongside the incorporation of what the literature terms vulnerability lenses and other “complex” factors. Further to this, a review of potential solutions found that many are linked to decarbonisation. However, technical analysis tools and data are unadequate to consider their alleviation via these solutions. The use of existing tools requires compromise with regards to what is analysed, and currently requires a focus almost solely on cost aspects.

To fill some identified data gaps a survey of the island of Ireland was conducted. No concurrent measurement of energy poverty existed across the island, nor had there ever been an explicit measure of transport poverty in either jurisdiction. The findings of this survey however contradicted expected outcomes, in that expected correlations between literature identified causal mechanisms and the conditions of energy and transport poverty were not uncovered, with the reason for this being unclear. It was concluded that the current strict official means for identifying the energy or transport poor should be widened. The literature calls for more empirical Just Transition case studies. Therefore case studies of a rural and an urban/suburban area of Northern Ireland were used in this work to study solutions to energy and transport poverty as identified by this work. This analysis considered “cost optimal” domestic retrofit for energy poverty alleviation, and the provision of eBikes and car sharing for transport poverty alleviation. The results showed that almost all variations of the solutions examined create net economic benefits and are therefore worth pursuing further, regardless of a policy maker’s views on social equity. This work concludes by highlighting the lack of overlap between energy and transport poverty in the built environment, which makes it difficult to address these issues simultaneously from a technical modelling and infrastructural perspective.

This work has three main novel contributions to the literature. Firstly, it presents the first research to examine the unification of energy and transport poverty measurement to determine their utility in identifying those suffering and their potential for use in alleviating these conditions. Secondly, the novel surveying conducted is the first of its kind in of itself and the first of its kind across the island of Ireland. This survey presents the first simultaneous measurements island wide of expenditure and consensual metrics of energy and transport poverty. Furthermore, these are the first ever explicit measures of transport poverty, as defined in this work, in either jurisdiction on the island. Thirdly, the research body calls for more empirical and transparent, geographically explicit Just Transition case studies. No such case studies have been found in the literature to date. This work demonstrates that alleviating energy and transport poverty is a key component of the Just Transition and answers that call with case studies based in Northern Ireland, modelling and analysing potential solutions to energy and transport poverty in the form of domestic retrofit, mode shifting and ride sharing.
Date of AwardDec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorDavid Rooney (Supervisor) & Aoife Foley (Supervisor)


  • Energy
  • transport
  • decarbonisation
  • poverty
  • engineering

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