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Energy poverty in Europe: Towards a more global understanding


The diversity of European national contexts considerably complicates the global understanding of the phenomenon of energy poverty. However, this global understanding is a key element of an effective fight against this problem. On one hand, this will make it possible to develop a concrete definition of energy poverty, enabling diagnosis, quantification of the problem and definition of targets at national and European levels; and on the other hand, a global vision of the problem could allow drawing common lessons in different countries, in respect of particular contexts of each of them. This paper provides a non-exhaustive overview of the situation in 7 European countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Hungary, Romania, Spain and United Kingdom). It compares and analyses the contexts of energy poverty, the real or perceived consequences of the problem, and the policies related to energy poverty (including procedures for non-payment) in these countries. The paper also investigates the advantages and disadvantages of a common and relative definition of energy poverty. The average fraction of household income that is spent on energy for housing varies from country to country, between less than 5% and more than 14%. This large range not only seriously compromises the use of the English definition of energy poverty on a European scale, but also reminds the relativity of the concept of poverty itself. Finally, this paper highlights the problem of building general solutions, a problem caused (among other factors) by important differences between rental markets of different countries (the rental market is almost nonexistent in some countries), the existence of district heating in some countries (for example, Romania, Hungary and Denmark), and some large differences in energy prices (nearly 3 times more expensive in Romania than in Denmark).