Full text: The role of energy providers in tackling energy poverty (214)

1 1. Introduction Energy poverty is an issue at the heart of a just transition from a fossil fuel to a renewable energy based economy. In the Global North, energy poverty is usually characterised as a person or household not being able to “comfortably satisfy their energy service needs, be it because of their inability to afford sufficient energy services and/or because of the disproportional costs they have to bear for those energy services” (Ürge-Vorsatz & Tirado Herrero, 2012, p. 84). However, there is no agreed definition, neither in the scientific community nor on a political level. It often, though not always, overlaps with income poverty. Other drivers include chronic illness, single parenthood or recent separation from a partner. It is usually exacerbated by the fact that low-income households are more likely to live in poorly insulated buildings or own energy inefficient appliances (Matzinger et al., 2018). Energy poverty is thus considered both an energy and a social issue, and policies need to address it through both levers. The European Union recognises addressing energy poverty as a key component of a Just Transition. Just Transition is a guiding principle of the Paris Climate Agreement. The concept signifies a transition into a carbon-neutral society that is socially inclusive, focuses on providing decent jobs and on poverty eradication (Just Transition Centre, 2017). The transition to renewable energy is associated with higher energy prices, which risks exacerbating the social inequalities regarding equitable access to energy. At the same time, there exists potential for substantial synergies between addressing energy poverty and advancing climate change mitigation. For example, by improving poor housing quality and low energy efficiency in appliances, energy demand can be reduced (it is estimated that currently around 36% of the EU’s carbon emissions come from buildings (European Commission, 2019). A reduced energy demand will help vulnerable households to afford adequate energy. This thesis will examine the social benefits programme Wiener Energieunterstützung as a case study. The programme is unique in its form, at least in the German-speaking world. Vulnerable, energy-poor households undergo energy audits and the City of Vienna covers the full price of energy-efficiency measures, such as repairing windows and replacing appliances. Another unique feature is the institutionalised cooperation between the City, other social institutions and the municipal energy provider Wien Energie, which will be a special focus of the investigation. There are two main objectives for this thesis. First, it will describe in detail the processes of the Wiener Energieunterstützung and the cooperation between the organisations involved in the programme. Secondly, it will examine whether the programme manages to alleviate energy poverty for its clients and in Vienna in the long term. These questions are investigated through a series of expert interviews with representatives of Caritas, the Magistrate for Social and Health Affairs (MA40) in Vienna, the Umweltberatung (an organisation that conducts energy audits) and the Ombudsteam at Wien Energie. The processes and cooperation between the organisations are described in the Analysis section. The Discussion section reviews the sustainability of the programme by comparing it to measures proposed in the literature on energy poverty in the Global North.

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