773.2 Energy consumption practices and social inequality: The problem of fuel poverty

Saturday, August 4, 2012: 4:30 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Karl-Michael BRUNNER , Socioeconomics, Institute for Sociology and Social Research, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria
Markus SPITZER , Austrian Institute for Sustainable Development, Austria
Anja CHRISTANELL , Austrian Institute for Sustainable Development, Austria
People living at risk of poverty or in conditions of manifest poverty very often cannot satisfy basic needs such as being able to heat their homes adequately. These groups of energy consumers are vulnerable to the consequences of insufficient or insecure access to energy. Reports by social welfare organisations state that a large part of low-income households has problems in paying their energy bills, at least for some time, and that disconnections are more widespread than expected. Rising fuel costs, bad housing conditions, the use of energy-inefficient appliances etc. belong to the list of problems these vulnerable consumers face and which call for socio-ecological solutions that contribute to energy efficiency as well as to social empowerment. 

The proposed paper presents results and policy recommendations from the project “Sustainable energy consumption and lifestyles in poor households” (German acronym: NELA) which investigates energy consumption in low-income households in the Austrian capital Vienna. The study is based on a broad, multidisciplinary approach regarding underlying social theories and guided by questions about the type of socio-cultural and everyday life images that shape energy consumption in low-income households and the target-group-specific strategies and measures that can be developed in order to combine energy efficiency and energy savings with an improvement of living standards. The methodological approach of the project is premised on the qualitative paradigm, and data was collected in qualitative interviews. In summary 50 interviews were conducted in low income households in Vienna, 10 interviews in more affluent households and subsequently analysed.

The main aim of the project is to identify potentials for energy efficiency and energy savings (and thus also of costs) and to develop and implement policy measures that help combat fuel poverty and social exclusion in close cooperation with key actors within the energy system (e.g. energy companies, policy makers, NGOs).