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

4 energy prices can lead to a disincentive to constructing buildings in an energy-efficient manner. After liberalising the energy market after the end of the communist era, this has led to rising levels of energy poverty. Therefore, lower energy prices are unfit as a stand-alone long-term solution (Ürge-Vorsatz & Tirado Herrero, 2012). Boltz & Pichler (2014) argue that long-term benefits should be achieved not by making energy cheaper or free, but by cutting energy consumption. Arguably, social benefits contribute to alleviating the immediate consequences of energy poverty, but they do not allow consumers to exit the conditions that are at the root of their energy poverty (European Energy Network, 2019). The greatest obstacle here is the affordability of measures that lower energy consumption. However, Boltz Pichler (2014) argue that it could be more cost-efficient for the state in the long run to insulate social housing rather than giving out additional energy benefits. This is especially true if government benefits do not reflect increasing energy prices, as might be the case in Austria (Brunner et al., 2012). A more effective way in the long-term is to increase the energy efficiency of dwellings by improving insulation and installing energy efficient appliances. Campaigns to exchange larger inefficient household appliances have been successful in Austria (Brunner et al., 2012). This decreases energy demand in the long-term, with positive synergy effects for climate change mitigation by lowering CO2 emissions. The question is how to incentivise landlords with mostly low-income tenants to make these investments in their properties (European Energy Network, 2019). A drawback to lower energy demand and thus lower energy expenditure could be rebound effects as formerly energy poor households might now consumer more energy (e.g. heating all rooms instead of one). However, studies show that the overall consumption usually decreases for energy poor households. (Ürge-Vorsatz & Tirado Herrero, 2012) 2.3. European Union Policy makers in the European Union have recognised the issue of energy poverty as a key aspect of a Just Transition. The European Commission estimates that around 50 million Europeans struggle to pay their energy bills (European Commission, 2019). Member states of the European Union are not legally required to define energy poverty per se but they need a definition of ‘vulnerable consumers’ (Bouzarovski & Thomson, 2019). They are also required to take appropriate measures to address the issues related to energy poverty, both through social security and energy efficiency measures (Pye et al., 2015; Rechnungshof Österreich, 2020). The Austrian Court of Auditors criticises the focus on vulnerable consumers rather than energy poverty, as vulnerability of consumers focuses on the individual characteristics of these consumers, such as employment, health and age, but the reasons for energy poverty are often found elsewhere and more on a structural level (Rechnungshof Österreich, 2020). Pye et al. (2015) categorise member states according to whether they address energy poverty more through energy policy or social policy, which is partially based on how they define vulnerable consumers. Social policy led measures often include support for paying bills. These are the most common policies. Energy focused policy is more scarce and includes improving building insulation, replacing heating systems and targeted energy audits (Bouzarovski & Thomson, 2019). Pye et al. (2015) categorise Austria as an energy-focused country (but

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