Zoom-in
Modifier 26 February 2021
by Marcelline Bonneau, UIA Expert

Making the most of solar energy in the new residential area of Antwerp Circular South (3rd Zoom-In)

PVs at VITO/EnergyVille (source: VITO/EnergyVille)
PVs at VITO/EnergyVille (source: VITO/EnergyVille)
This Zoom-In presents the different features of the solar energy system in Antwerp Circular South as well as the challenges it has faced due to the current economic context, the context of a newly built area, the legislative context as well the cultural one. It concludes with some lessons learnt and prospect for other cities wishing to embark on such a journey.

The Antwerp Circular South project positions circularity as a community challenge for the New South district (a newly created district in Antwerp). It engages the district’s new residents in co-creating online and offline initiatives and changing their consumption behaviours. A number of advanced technical solutions covering different resource streams (energy, water and waste) will be tested. You can find further details about the project on the UIA website.

A large share of the activities focuses on the production and consumption of renewable energy, from the Sun. PVs, BIPVs and storage Batteries were sought to be installed for the benefits of flat residents, with a close follow-up via smart meters and a dedicated app. An Energy community has taken form to coordinate the link between production and consumption.

The author would like to thank the partners for their inputs and reviews: Joren Hofman (City of Antwerp), Ine Swennen (Ecopower), Raf Ponnette (VITO/EnergyVille), Sam Verbelen (City of Antwerp) and Jan Pecinovsky (EnergieID).

The content of this Zoom-in does not reflect the official opinion of the Urban Innovative Actions Initiative. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the Zoom-in lies entirely with the author.

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SOLAR ENERGY? IN BELGIUM?

With 1,546 hours of sunshine per year in Belgium (Brussels’ reference) (as compared to 3,054 hours in Valetta, Malta, or 2806 in Lisbon, Portugal) (see the list of cities by sunshine duration), Belgium would certainly not be the first country you think of when developing a citizen-owned solar energy system. Yet, the potential of such energy, even in Belgium has been proven because it:

  • Is free and without limits;
  • Is efficient solution for green energy production;
  • Brings return on investments; and,
  • Is easy to install (technically and administratively)

In addition, according to Ine Swennen from Ecopower, solar energy could virtually provide a multitude of the energy currently consumed in Belgium. This is also an efficient way of converting available energy. Even more so than other sources of renewable energy sources such as wind: it can easily adapt to different environments. In particular, PVs (Photovoltaic Panels) and BIPVs (Building-integrated Photovoltaic panels) can be adjusted to the dense urban environment (whereas, for example, wind turbines would be too noisy or visible). It is less costly than wind energy and there is no need for permit to install PVs on a roof or BIPVs on a balcony.

Antwerp had signed the Covenant of Mayors and developed strong climate ambitions amongst which Local renewable energy production was part. A first project, Zoom in op dak, encouraged renewable energy production on individual roofs of houses. Yet, the City noticed it was difficult to develop such an approach for apartment building (in terms of roof space available and governance – energy sharing). As Joren Hofman, coordinator of Antwerp Circular South explained: “Urban residents often do not have the same opportunities as residents of single-family houses to invest in alleviating measures, such as renewable energy. Concerning the energy challenge, residents of apartment buildings have a limited roof surface for the installation of photovoltaics and lack space for batteries. If they seek to make use of renewable energy, they need to rely on a 'green contract'. This offers no incentives to adapt consumption behaviour to the peaks in renewable energy production, resulting in a collective challenge of grid balance. Such overload of the distribution network currently implies a necessity for more resources and materials: more defect household devices, replacement of transformers, thicker power cables, etc”. The City therefore sought to test it in Antwerp Circular South.

IMPLEMENTING A SOLAR ENERGY ECOSYSTEM

In the newly built district of Nieuw Zuid, the UIA Antwerp Circular South project has aimed at changing residents’ consumption of electricity, water and their waste production by combining technical devices with specific modalities via physical and virtual interfaces for a series of activities undertaken for and with the resideThis Zoom-in focuses on Solar energy production: the project sought to install PVs, BIPVs and Storage batteries at residents’ flats. The production of energy was meant to be followed closely via the use of smart meters, visible on a specific dashboard/application. A Business logic and blockchain were also set up to reward behaviours with circular coins (so-called “circules”) as part of a nudging experiment (see Zoom-In 2). An Energy community took form to coordinate the link between production and consumption.

 

A COMPLEX IMBRICATION OF CONTEXTS

The project has been very active during 3 years in order to ensure it could actually implement what it had intended to do. Yet, it has faced a range of challenges due to the specific contexts within which it evolves, and which have prevented everything to go as planned.

WHAT CAN OTHER CITIES LEARN FROM THIS EXPERIENCE?

We hope that Antwerp’s experience will be useful for other cities seeking to support solar energy project for individuals in apartment buildings. It seems that the most important takeaways and points to take into consideration are:

Time

  • When implementing such a project in a newly built area, a fixed timing is extremely difficult to follow because of on-going delays in constructions, moves of the residents, etc. In addition, it would have been crucial to involve both the Real Estate Developer and citizens from the design phase of the neighbourhood to ensure more efficient collaboration and implementation;
  • Ensuring identification of suitable roofs and community buy-in seems to be taking an average of 5 years. The project has secured 3 locations for the PVs and 81 Energy community members. Yet, it would have been more successful (and less stressful) with a longer time span.

Procurement

  • Market screening and monitoring, especially for newer technologies, such as BIPVs is crucial;
  • Ensuring strict contractual agreements is also key to prevent defaults from contractors.

Contexts

  • This type of projects takes part in an interlacing of contexts, which requires an integrated approach and strong commitment from partners to co-create;
  • This is also the opportunity to try and influence changes in the context: provide evidence for economic added value, designing a convincing narrative, … This might in turn support the transposition of the Directive on common rules for the internal market for electricity (EU) 2019/944) at regional level, as for now, stakeholders are concluding that the business case for solar energy on apartment buildings is not there yet.

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