The advent of competition in the Austrian I&C market has so far received a cool welcome from the country's major energy users, marred by continuing third-party access problems. However, real competition is starting to emerge with the entry of major foreign players. Over half of the major energy users surveyed have been approached by foreign suppliers.
At present, only the very top end of the Austrian energy market is open to competition. However, as of October 1, 2001, the whole of the country's electricity market will be eligible to change supplier, with the gas market following a year later. Despite the teething problems of a newly liberalized market, foreign utilities are very keen to get in on the action. Results from Datamonitor's Major Energy Users survey reveal that by February 2001, more than half of all Austrian I&C customers had been approached by a foreign supplier.
Most of the approaches have been from German companies, such as RWE, E.On and EnBW, who together accounted for more than three quarters of the total. However, the likes of EDF and Vattenfall have also been active.
Despite their size and the low prices they can offer, foreign utilities are in for a bumpy ride, as more than two-thirds of Austrian major energy users anticipate potential obstacles with being supplied by a foreign utility. The most commonly cited problems centered on security of supply and quality of service, although Austria's opposition to nuclear energy, which plays an important role in countries like France and Germany, was also mentioned as an obstacle.
Foreign utilities have also been trying to link up with indigenous suppliers, thereby immediately solving the 'foreign supplier' problem. In May, RWE acquired a controlling stake in KELAG, one of Austria's smaller regional suppliers. With regional governments now more willing to relinquish their stakes in energy supply companies than before, more of the same is likely to follow.