A chronicle of energy poverty in Greece


This article on energy poverty in Greece, by Kyriaki Metaxa, Coordinator of the Ecology Programme at Heinrich Böll Foundation Thessaloniki - Greece, was first published in the Slovak independent magazine “Kapital” on 20 April 2023.

* All anonymous testimonies are part of the analysis  “Problems, practices and perceptions in relation to energy consumption in housing” (2022, Nikos Poulantzas Institute, only in Greek). For the purpose of part two of the analysis, a qualitative research in multi-family houses in Athens was conducted by researchers Fereniki Vatavali, Nikolaos Katsoulakos, Evangelia Chatzikonstantinou, covering the period 2015-2022.
Energy poverty in Greece

Phase 1: Looking for the right words

“What is energy poverty?”, the question set by the director of the office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation in Greece caught me by surprise. I was familiar with the topic through my master in Energy Systems and tried to give a simple, straightforward answer but it proved not as easy as I have initially thought. “It is the state in which a household can’t afford adequate heating or cooling of their home”, I replied. A storm of questions poured down on me. A feeling of disappointment at the level of (non)communication overwhelmed us both and by the time this corridor-chat was over, all I could think was “you can get better in this…”.

I was always drawn to social and environmental issues even during my studies in architecture and felt quite political. Still working in a German political foundation was something I had never imagined. I joined the team in 2014, in what can only be described as turbulent times. Over the three years that followed the first bailout agreement between Greece, the IMF and the EU, harsh austerity measures were put in place to avoid Greece’s default on its public debt[1]. Lay-offs, wage cuts, tax rises, pension reforms, privatization of publicly owned companies, high unemployment, brain-drain were constantly on the news. Feelings of fear, frustration, shame and anger were building-up, feeding a strong anti-Europe and anti-German sentiment and complete mistrust to democratic institutions.  


My dad attempted suicide in May. Yes... My dad attempted suicide after the last inflated electricity bill. [...] He found himself in a huge dead end. [...] I mean, it was the electricity. Okay, even if it wasn't the electricity, I'm sure it would be something else. But my father had a very hard time with it to get to this point. Because he saw that the power was just going to be cut off and what would we do.

G., 35 years old, researcher, 2015


In the winters of 2012-2013, smog appeared over the two biggest cities of Greece. Due to a rise in the heating oil tax, many households resolved to burning unsuitable material collected from the garbage, in fireplaces and stoves, causing respiratory and heart problems, and even leading to loss of lives. On February 28, 2013, two students in Larissa were found dead from fumes from the brazier they put on to keep warm and two others were in critical condition[2]. Partially heating the home became a norm. In many multi-apartment buildings the central heating system was not operating mainly for economic reasons; hence, stoves, air-conditioners and thermal accumulators were used. Besides the obvious discomfort, this was the cause of frictions among the building residents. Single parent and large families, people with disabilities, unemployed people, pensioners, refugees and those living in rented apartments were affected the most. An increased number of requests by vulnerable citizens to municipal social services for support in order to be able to pay their bills, reflects their predicament.


[Without communal power we have been] two years or more. We were four years without an elevator and with the stairs and with stuff and with a flashlight. So think about it. Every person had the flashlight. [...] In the bag a flashlight… I had a flashlight and my husband, everybody. Going up and down the stairs.

V., 60 years old, housekeeper, owner, 2015


The “Energy Poverty in Greece; Social Innovation Proposals to combat it” report was launched (2017) in collaboration with partners. It gathered the available knowledge on energy poverty up to that time, thanks to two participatory workshops with stakeholders and experts. It shed light to its multifaceted nature, which is intrinsically linked to the financial status of vulnerable citizens, to excess energy consumption because of residencies’ poor energy performance, high energy and fuel costs. Ultimately, the most effective way to lift people out of energy poverty is to address its root causes simultaneously through a “holistic approach”. By integrating energy poverty into other linked policies (social, energy, environmental), cross-sectoral targets can be achieved with multiple benefits; cleaner air, warmer homes, industrial benefits, more local quality jobs, more income remaining in local economies, while at the same time contributing to saving the planet and essentially securing our existence.


That is, since we abolished the central heating, the whole building is filled with humidity. There's paint coming down in the bathrooms, peeling ceilings on the balconies. It gets mold in the bathroom very easily. The windows are always waterlogged. Clothes don't dry. [...] It also coincided at that time with something else. Because of the smog, we could no longer hang out clothes outside at night, because they stink in the morning. And we would hang them indoors, and that made it even more humid.  

M., 40 years old, dentist, 2015

Phase 2: In tuned with relevant developments

In Europe, energy poverty started being acknowledged as a social problem of increasing importance affecting around 10% of the EU population, or 50 million Europeans. The launch of the European Energy Poverty Observatory (2018), as an open-source online repository for energy-related data to support informed decision-making at all levels was the European Commission’s response. In the words of Prof. Bouzarovski, chair of its steering committee, “there is no one-size fits all approach” hence the observatory aimed in developing indicators to measure energy poverty across the EU[3] instead of formulating a unified European definition. One year later, the Clean Energy Package for all Europeans was amended. Priority was given to energy efficiency and empowerment of the role of the consumers to engage actively in the energy system either as prosumers[4] or as members of energy communities.

In 2018, three years after the leftist Syriza party swept to power promising an end to austerity, Law 4513 on Energy Communities (ECs) came into force in Greece. It placed citizens, local municipal authorities and mid-sized businesses at the heart of the energy transition. The law explicitly links ECs to tackling energy poverty, also, through virtual net metering[5]. Vulnerable households can have access to free solar power even if they are not members of an energy community. The revised National Energy and Climate Plan even sets specific electricity generation targets for ECs, about 600 MWh by 2030. Thanks to strong collaboration with diverse actors bringing invaluable perspectives together, a guidebook on Building Energy Communities became available to citizens interested to develop an energy community providing both theoretical and practical information.


I realized that it takes insulation, it needs aluminum frames - and the heating system…I don't know if it is that important. I mean, when you have great insulation and great aluminium frames, with the same heating system, no matter how old, you're definitely going to burn a heck of a lot less. So it's possible that maybe you shouldn't have to subsidize a heating system change. I don't know if it makes sense.

T., researcher, home-owner, 2022, reflects on the impact of energy upgrades his family made in two different types of houses. In the case of the apartment more modest interventions were carried out (heating system change and framings upgrade), while in the case of the single-family house a radical renovation (including thermal insulation).


At this time of major transformations in the energy sector, the “Energy poverty in Greece 2.0; Political developments and social innovation proposals for combatting it” publication pinpoints the nexus between just energy transition and energy poverty tackling efforts. Just energy transition stands on two pillars: Reducing energy consumption and exploiting renewables. Targeted policies and measures to improve buildings’ energy efficiency, use energy more rationally as well as supporting the development of community energy, translate in an indirect increase of citizens’ income and effectively address the problem. Social innovation is the key to making energy transition inclusive and just. For example, in the island of Crete, the energy community of Minoan provides free electricity to earthquake-affected fellow citizens who are currently leaving in containers. In the mainland, the energy community of Karditsa (ESEK) collects the residual biomass of local actors and coffee shops, to produce pellets. ESEK recently installed a boiler in a small nursery, and is in charge of providing the fuel and manages the system via an app. As a result, the entire building is heated contrary to the previous situation when the old boiler was running on heating oil and only three out of the four classrooms were heated due to economic constraints.

Phase 3: Energy literacy and the right to energy

By the end of 2019, the COVID pandemic reached Greece. The impact of the lockdowns on energy poverty was clear; as we had to spend more time in homes of low energy efficiency, demand for energy increased while household income was reduced, as the measures in response took a toll on the economy. In fact, low-income families in mountainous rural areas suffering from severe winters reduced their energy consumption. When not combined with the implementation of energy efficiency measures this is a strong indication of energy poverty aggravation. Eight people lost their lives from health implications due to extreme high temperatures, during a heatwave in August 2021[6], whereas in 2022, one out of three households reported having to cut back on basic needs (e.g. food, medicine etc.) in order to cover energy costs[7].


Because, at least I have some health issues etc, I didn't really get around at all. [...] Air-conditioning is essential. In the heat you can't... The cold is bearable. You put your clothes on, you throw a blanket over and you sit down. In the heat, at least I can't, I can't take the heat, I can't take it. [...] We certainly used a lot of electricity. I can assure you that I paid more than I paid now in the winter. [...] But that thing some days was... you couldn't take a breath.

F., 65 years old, pensioner, home-owner, 2022


Can this picture become any bleaker? It goes without saying considering the average increase in energy bills by 42% during the winter of 2021, in comparison to the last one. Economy recovery after the pandemic brought about an increase in energy demand. This change in supply and demand triggered the crisis which was exasperated by a series of international developments that ultimately increased global demand for gas affecting the markets. Electricity generation in Greece depends by 40% on fossil gas and 100% of the electricity is traded at the spot market. This means that retail prices are affected by 100% from any increase at the spot market. As a result, Greek consumers were highly energy vulnerable -in risk of becoming energy poor that is- due to factors over which they have practically zero control (e.g. energy market structure, dependency to Russian fossil gas etc.). It is no surprise that Greek consumer associations were swamped by complaints from citizens and two collective actions against electricity suppliers were filed.


The thing is, if something crazy comes up [in the electricity bill] I'll panic. Because it's not something I'm used to. I mean, I would get by. But now it's like... There's this line that we're crossing. In the beginning you were like, "I'm going to quit that, I'm not going to travel, I'm not going to go away on a weekend that I wanted to go away, I'm not going to go to my village that I used to go to once or twice a year, now I might go every couple of years." Now you're getting down to basics. So, I mean…if the basics become a luxury...

G., 43 years old, civil servant, tenant, 2022


Energy crisis affects us all intensely while the energy market remains something unknown and complex. This hinders citizens’ participation and hides the connection with energy poverty. In Greece, around 9,5 bn Euros[8] have been spent to “shield” the citizens via power, gas and fuel subsidies. Still, these aim in short-term relief only and lack long-term vision, like incentives to switch back to oil boilers. Hence, Greeks have become more interested in learning about energy markets, engaging in self-production[9] as a means of protection against this and future energy crisis, while they report to be checking more carefully their energy bills[10]. The ongoing analysis “Clean Energy Bills for all in the EU” aims to contribute to more clear, transparent and well-designed electricity bills, thus strengthen citizens’ energy literacy and boost healthy market competition in the benefit of consumers.


- What would help you personally? If you were to ask the government for something, what would it be? 

- That electricity cease to be a commercial good and become a social good. I think it's a good that shouldn't be subject to the rules of the market, it's a good like water. It makes no sense to commercialise electricity.

T., researcher, home-owner, 2022


Energy is a basic good, the absence of which can exclude people from participating in life. Having a right to energy[11], similarly to water etc., would translate to certain rights and entitlements for citizens; access to affordable energy and related services, access to energy information and decision-making, participation in energy communities etc. At the same time the state and authorities would need to ensure those rights for everyone, equally and without discrimination.


[7] Problems, practices and perceptions in relation to energy consumption in the home, Survey by the Nikos Poulantzas Institute (political institute of SYRIZA) during 7-27 May 2022, 1.061 households across Greece (available only in Greek): https://poulantzas.gr/yliko/erevna-provlimata-praktikes-kai-antilipseis…

[10] Problems, practices and perceptions in relation to energy consumption in the home, Survey by the Nikos Poulantzas Institute (political institute of SYRIZA) during 7-27 May 2022, 1.061 households across Greece (available only in Greek): https://poulantzas.gr/yliko/erevna-provlimata-praktikes-kai-antilipseis…

[11] Right to Energy Toolkit. Available at: https://cutt.ly/tBHYiC9