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Energy

Energy poverty in the EU

Energy poverty is a situation in which households are unable to access essential energy services and products. The EU is committed to tackling energy poverty and to the protection of vulnerable consumers.

We all depend on energy in our everyday lives, as we need to have sufficient levels of heating, cooling and lighting in our homes to have a decent standard of living and help guarantee our health.

Energy poverty occurs when energy bills represent a high percentage of consumers’ income, or when they must reduce their household's energy consumption to a degree that negatively impacts their health and well-being.

Due to its private nature, as it mainly affects households, and its complexity, energy poverty remains a major challenge to be further addressed in the EU. According to Eurostat's figures, about 35 million EU citizens (approximately 8% of the EU population) were unable to keep their homes adequately warm in 2020. The surge in energy prices that started in 2021 and worsened with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, along with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, are likely to have worsened an already difficult situation for many EU citizens.

EU policies

The EU is committed to tackling energy poverty and protecting vulnerable consumers. Over the past decade, it has increased its efforts and made energy poverty a key concept in the Clean energy for all Europeans package, adopted in 2019. The reduction and mitigation of energy poverty has also been increasingly targeted in energy efficiency, decarbonisation and clean energy policies to support a just energy transition for all.

As part of their obligation to assess energy poverty in their National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs), several EU countries have integrated targeted measures in their national strategies and are developing their own definitions, measurement and monitoring methods and solutions to tackle energy poverty. In 2020, to support EU countries' efforts to tackle energy poverty, the Commission published a Recommendation on energy poverty, issued as part of the Renovation wave strategy. The recommendation provides guidance on adequate indicators to measure energy poverty, promotes sharing best practices between EU countries and identifies the potential to access to EU funding programmes that prioritise measures targeting vulnerable groups.

Building on this recommendation, the Fit for 55 package, adopted in July 2021, proposed specific measures to identify key drivers of energy-poverty risks for consumers, such as too high energy prices, low household income and poor energy-efficient buildings and appliances, taking into account structural solutions to vulnerabilities and underlying inequalities. The Fit for 55 package includes a proposal for a revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive to put a stronger focus on alleviating energy poverty and empowering consumers.

In autumn 2021, the Commission published the Communication “Tackling rising energy prices: a toolbox for action and support”, where it lists a range of short and medium-term initiatives that can be taken at national level to support and help the most vulnerable consumers. The proposal for a recast of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the hydrogen and decarbonised gas market package are expected to further stress the importance of the mitigation of energy poverty in EU policies.

The Commission Decision 2022/589 established in April 2022 the Commission Energy Poverty and Vulnerable Consumers Coordination Group, which aims to provide EU countries with a space to exchange best practices and increase coordination of policy measures to support vulnerable and energy-poor households.

The Energy Poverty Advisory Hub

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At the request of the European Parliament, the European Commission launched in 2021 the Energy Poverty Advisory Hub (EPAH), the leading EU initiative aiming to eradicate energy poverty and accelerate the just energy transition of European local governments.

Building upon the work of the EU Energy Poverty Observatory, launched in 2018, the EPAH offers a space for collaboration and exchange for local and regional authorities to tackle energy poverty in the pursuit of a just and fair energy transition. The Observatory and its national energy poverty indicators are now an integrated part of the EPAH.

The EPAH provides several resources to guide stakeholders in the implementation of concrete actions to tackle energy poverty, such as

  • publications
  • the EPAH ATLAS, an online interactive database that allows stakeholders to discover local and international projects and measures addressing energy poverty worldwide
  • online courses to increase knowledge and build capacity on energy poverty and mitigation actions
  • calls for technical assistance to directly assist local governments in their steps to initiate local actions to tackle energy poverty

EU projects tackling energy poverty

Across Europe, various projects are developing innovative solutions to combat energy poverty. The 2014-2020 calls of Horizon 2020 Energy Efficiency granted approximately €29 million to 16 projects addressing energy poverty by working with key actors, including utilities, consumer organisations, public authorities and consumers themselves. These projects contributed to the exchange of best practices among stakeholders, empowering local communities and consumers in tackling energy poverty.

The LIFE Clean Energy Transition Programme has launched calls for projects further exploring ways to alleviate energy poverty. Project developers work closely with networks of local actors and energy-poor households to provide practical information and advice on low-cost energy efficiency solutions. This can in turn help improve energy access in a way that maximises both energy and financial savings.  

In addition to the work of the EPAH, the EU Building Stock Observatory, the Smart Cities Marketplace and the EU Covenant of Mayors can further assist EU countries in taking stock and identifying segments in need within the energy poverty area.

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