Through an innovative financial mechanism (the Association of Flemish Social Housing Companies) aims to develop a sector-based approach to tackling poverty by retrofitting social homes with solar panels and socialising the returns on investment to ensure that tenants benefit through lower energy bills.
Low-income groups in Flanders are more likely to experience energy poverty than other income groups and face the highest risk of eviction and homelessness. The ASTER project offers a way to lower this risk by reducing their living costs. Through this project, VVH hopes to encourage social housing policy makers and practitioners to consider using policy areas such as energy, where there is relatively high social consensus, to leverage cross-sector stakeholder support and tackle all forms
Part of the larger vision behind the ASTER project is to initiate a shift in the way stakeholders think about energy and the benefits of the energy transition, from what is typically thought of as a one-to-one relationship between the tenant and the energy supplier, towards a model of solidarity with
fellow tenants and the local community.
Socialising Rewards: An Innovative Collective Approach
This project is innovative for two reasons. Firstly, it effectively revolutionises the way that investments tackling energy poverty in Flanders are managed and financed by depoliticising
these investments (outside of the regional and therefore national budget) and enabling practitioners closer to the tenant to define appropriate interventions. Secondly, it assumes a collective approach to ensure that all tenants benefit from the energy transition and save on their energy bill. Using novel approaches and technologies to share energy and the financial benefits of renewable energy integration is something that is really cutting edge in the social housing sector.
The main actors impacted are the social housing companies and the tenants, specifically those experiencing energy poverty and those at risk of homelessness. The installation offers
a minimum of 20% of savings on annual energy bills. Consequently, social housing companies can directly impact the risk of poverty by putting more money in the tenant’s pocket and
reducing the likelihood of arrears.
The ASTER project is supported by the ELENA programme, a Horizon 2020 programme for energy efficiency investments managed by the European Investment Bank (EIB). The project has a minimum investment value of €42 million, to retrofit 20,000 social homes with approximately 40 MW of solar panels. The programme is financed by public and private sources, working with the financing agency of social housing, social housing companies’ own resources, and domestic Belgian banks. The activities required to prepare the implementation of investment is supported by the EIB’s ELENA, part of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme. One of the chief objectives of the project is to ensure that the social tenants share in any return on investment from the project (e.g. through further savings on their energy bills).
The main challenge has been bringing together the appropriate set of actors to develop and implement the programme.The guiding ethos from the outset was to minimise costs, and
that any profits would be kept and reinvested by the sector to maximise value for tenants and the local community. Therefore, it was important to set up long-lasting relationships with actors that shared this ethos. The challenge was tackled by developing market knowledge of the experts who
could support the programme and painstaking procurement procedures, to ensure that experts with the right set of values were brought onto the project team. There are still a few legal
issues to overcome in order to reduce energy poverty, for example regulation which facilitates energy production and sharing by consumers and organisations