A social landlord in Belgium is accelerating its energy transition in the face of the current crisis
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SHM Denderstreek aims to slash energy consumption across its property assets by 2050. The social landlord is focusing primarily on solar panels, in a project managed with help from IZEN.
With energy prices increasing, households living in social housing sometimes struggle to meet this additional cost.
Now more than ever, the challenge facing social landlords is to implement solutions that enable their tenants to access cheaper, lower-carbon energy. This initiative is also helping to accelerate energy transition in their property assets.
In Belgium, the social housing organisation in Denderstreek in East Flanders has adopted a proactive policy in this area. Having fitted 66 solar installations to some of its accommodation in spring 2022, SHM Denderstreek accelerated the process with the installation of solar panels on a further 102 social housing units in September 2022.
“With this investment, tenants save on their energy costs while SHM Denderstreek makes its assets more sustainable.”
These two projects were entrusted to IZEN, a VINCI Energies Belgium Brand specialising in photovoltaic panels and systems based on renewable energy sources.
The second project began in September and involved individual houses across three neighbouring communities. Altogether, 698 photovoltaic modules were installed, for total installed capacity of 282.69 kWp and estimated annual production of 250 MWh.
As Gilles Raemdonck, Business Developer at IZEN, explains, “To reduce the per-unit investment and therefore equip more homes, we opted for smaller solar arrays to match the size of each house and its occupancy”.
Educating residents in how to use these new installations was central to the approach taken by IZEN and the landlord. “Education is important”, says Mieke Dobbenie, Senior Communications Manager at SHM Denderstreek.
“Older generations, for example, previously learned to use energy at night whenever possible to take advantage of night-time tariffs. We now advise them to use as much as possible during the day when the sun is shining, and also to spread out their consumption to avoid demand peaks”.
To help them manage their consumption, IZEN provides tenants with a production meter that displays their cumulative solar production and consumption in real time.
As Tom Van Den Berghe, Head of Technical Services at SHM Denderstreek, explains: “All residents can download the free Fluvius app, which gives them an overview of electricity feed-in and usage. The difference between generated power and feed-in power is the energy they have used. It’s a very accessible tool – an 82-year-old resident successfully learned to use it”.
Information in real time
In terms of the project itself, the challenge for IZEN was to successfully complete the task in just 10 days. Gilles Raemdonck, Social Housing Installation Manager at IZEN, says “We capitalised on the expertise gained during the first project last spring to make this second project more efficient by reducing our organisational costs”.
A local logistics platform was created to supply solar panels, inverters and mounting kits. This hub incorporated storage space and a mobile office from which the project manager coordinated the seven teams working on the project.
To adhere to the tight deadline, ongoing communication with residents was once again made the priority. “The success of this project also depends on the 102 families concerned”, says Gilles Raemdonck. “They need to know when we plan to install the system and what we expect from them, for example to clear their garden or terrace so we can install our equipment”.
Mieke Dobbenie adds: “To satisfy ourselves that everything was going according to plan, we visited all residents to remind them of their installation date and review every aspect of the project with them”.
The IZEN team published an online schedule so that residents could see in real time how works were progressing and learn of any changes. A telephone number was provided for any queries.
“Despite the very tight deadline, this project progressed in an extremely fluid way”, says Mieke Dobbenie. “We received very few enquiries from our residents and no complaints. In the end, our tenants see the installation of these solar panels as a gift that will help them control their energy bills”.
For social landlord SHM Denderstreek, the benefit is double. As Tom Van Den Berghe says, “With this investment, our tenants benefit from the electricity generated by saving on their energy costs, while we are making our assets more sustainable. By 2050, with an annual budget of €250,000 for solar panel installations, all our 2,347 social housing units should achieve an EPC score of 100” [in France, scores range from 0 (most efficient) to 700].
SHM Denderstreek’s Head of Technical Services adds that: “As some of the electricity produced feeds back into the grid, we also have the opportunity to negotiate tariffs with our energy supplier”.