Rebel helping Flemish social housing sector with solar panel ambition

14 December 2022 4 min. read

The social housing sector in Flanders has taken a major step towards a more sustainable future. In the coming years, more than 50,000 social rental homes in the region will be equipped with almost 400,000 solar panels – the largest solar panel project ever in the region.

The mega project is coordinated by ASTER, an initiative of the Association of Flemish Housing Companies (VVH). Standing for ‘Access to Sustainability for Tenants through Energy Effective Retrofit’ in full, ASTER aims to help make energy and insulation for social housing more sustainable.

The cooperative was founded in 2019 by a coalition of public and private parties, including VVH, energy broker Enbro, engineering firm Ingenium, financial consultancy firm Rebel and law firms Equator and Eubelius. The partners recognised sustainability in the social rental sector was facing a number of important challenges – not only do tenants on average have a smaller budget to draw from, but ownership is also an issue.

Rebel betrokken bij grootste zonnepanelenproject van Vlaanderen

While home owners can often make decisions about what goes on their roof – especially if they own a detached house – social tenants do not own their roof. As the right to amend the property rests with landlords, the initiative must come from housing corporations themselves.

Preparations for ASTER have been ongoing for roughly three years, with a major milestone recently achieved – the selection of EnergyVision as the lead installation partner. EnergyVision will take care of the installation and maintenance of solar panels, using its extensive experience with solar energy projects and social tenants to execute the project.

EnergyVision was selected on the basis of various criteria, including the total investment and maintenance costs, expertise, experience and the quality guarantees of the materials used and the installation.

Long-term goals

ASTER will ultimately invest more than €150 million in the project, supported by a financing agreement with Belfius Bank. Within the current tender, this investment can be further expanded to a maximum of €400 million, good for 1 million solar panels by mid-2026.

Rebel betrokken bij grootste zonnepanelenproject van Vlaanderen

The Dutch consultancy firm Rebel provided financial advice to ASTER during the financing process. The consulting firm provided the structure, handled the diligence process, negotiated with financial institutions and supervised the process of attracting financing.

According to ASTER, the financing model – which is independent of subsidies and green certificates – ensures that the program has a payback model “where everyone wins”. Sven Van Elst, General Manager of the organisation, said, “We will provide tenants with solar power that is 25% to 30% cheaper than the current social daily rate, and up to 40% cheaper than commercial electricity rates.”

The electricity that is not used will sold by the social housing companies to The proceeds flow entirely back to the social housing companies and social tenants who do not have direct access to solar energy. The proceeds can also be used for other sustainability initiatives of the participating social housing companies.

Rollout begins

The rollout of the project commenced in September, and will eventually cover the social housing of Flanders. According to EnergyVision CEO Maarten Michielssens, this will see the firm and its subcontractors employ “more than 250 full-time people for several years just for the ASTER project,” bringing key economic benefits to the region as a whole.

Matthias Diependaele, Minister of Housing in Flanders, added, “From Flanders, we fully support this project. The figures are impressive, with this solar panel project we will provide 395,000 solar panels on 52,500 homes of 64 different social housing companies over the next 5 years. With this, one third of the total number of social homes in Flanders will be equipped with solar panels.”

“This means a double social benefit for an increasingly serious problem: we are taking a serious step towards the Flemish climate objectives, and the installation of solar panels has a positive effect on the energy bill of social tenants.”