"We cannot achieve CO2 neutrality alone."
Ine Lobelle, Project Manager for Energiewijk2050 at the City of Roeselare, and Andy De Bakker, Head of Dept. of Building Management for De Mandel, are pleased to share this best practice with others.
The Energiewijk 2050 project is all about cooperation and engaging with the stakeholders– with inhabitants, businesses and organisations. “That’s the strength of this project,” according to Ine. “We’ve really focussed on the co-creative aspect from the very beginning. The Municipality cannot achieve a CO2 neutral city alone. Since buildings are responsible for 50% of the CO2 emissions here, we realized early on that energy renovation was an important pillar in our Climate Programme.”
Andy agrees: “Energy renovation is not just a technical story. Sure, we’re aiming for A-label buildings, but we want to go further than that. Together with our tenants we are looking for ways to reduce their costs, increase home comfort and reduce the city’s carbon footprint. “
The Energiewijk 2050 Verzonken Kasteel pilot is running under the Stronghouse project which focusses on supporting individual homeowners. However, many properties in the neighbourhood are social housing, so it was logical to develop a plan together with De Mandel. Social housing organisations not only have a potentially huge impact on reducing the energy consumption of the properties they manage but can also accelerate energy renovations amongst homeowners in the same neighbourhood. This approach is being followed closely internationally.
In this Energiewijk 2050 project the partners are taking a broad perspective - the social aspects are considered to be equally as important as the technical renovations. Communication with the inhabitants through various channels and actors is essential – using an integral approach. “We want to be seen as a partner and not as someone who comes to point a finger and tell people what to do. Our story is built around the theme of energy efficiency and that has an impact on people, housing and the climate,” says Andy. “We’re aiming for an A label or EPC score of 100 kWh/m2 max. But we also really want to help our tenants to cut costs on their energy bills down. Energy poverty is an issue for many. The social aspect and building an energy community is supported by all kinds of initiatives. We actively search for volunteers, for instance, who are willing to do small jobs for others. That keeps costs down, increases home comfort and strengthens the social fabric of the neighbourhood.”
Within the context of Stronghouse, the Municipality and De Mandel are carrying out various energy-related trials with the cooperation of a number of families in the Verzonken Kasteel neighbourhood. Everything is monitored and the results are discussed by all. There is also a mobile app (Yougo) for technical support, which also strengthens the neighbourhood network and encourages mutual trust between all parties. The test families have become ‘energy ambassadors’, spreading the word about their experiences with energy renovation.
Ine expands: “This approach really works – for individual homeowners too. If they see that a neighbour in a similar house has solar panels or insulation, for example, it can stimulate them to take the next step. With this kind of nudging, mouth-to-mouth advertising and ensuring our visibility in the area, we avoid that sense of force – there’s more trust.”
Well directed and clear communication is essential. Energiewijk 2050 shares a quarterly update through the neighbourhood newspaper, including tips and tricks to reduce energy consumption. Social media platforms are also used, as are workshops and informative sessions, but direct face-to-face conversations and door-to-door contact has been found to be the most effective.
“The various departments at the City of Roeselare are used to working closely together,” says Ine. “Colleagues from Social Services, for instance, are familiar faces in the neighbourhood and can help De Mandel in reaching the whole neighbourhood. For the project to succeed, both individual homeowners and tenants must be given the opportunity to join the energy journey. It’s a neighbourhood approach to the energy transition whereby social cohesion can work transformatively.”
Besides the social aspect, the Stronghouse pilot in Roeselare also relies on data, using the expertise of various external companies. Within the DITUR project - Digital Twins for Upscaled Retrofits – the parties are working on a roadmap for De Mandel’s A-label goals for 2050, for example. Using smart solutions can influence behaviour, result in energy savings and lower bills. The collected data helps to visualize consumption which also creates an opening for discussion.
Currently about a third of the properties in the Verzonken Kasteel neighbourhood has been sold to private homeowners. Results of a survey held amongst these homeowners last February indicate that the costs and lack of knowledge are the main issues this group face when considering energy renovations. By sharing the experiences of the social housing organisation in the neighbourhood, homeowners are now also being more informed about how to approach this. “We combine this information with a free energy scan of their house,” says Ine. “Those who are interested can receive a step-for-step plan, based on their budget, so they can see what is achievable and make informed decisions. We’re also working on ways to lower the financial barriers, for instance by recalculating municipal subsidies and collective purchasing.”
It is exciting to see what has already been achieved in the Stronghouse pilot in Roeselare and how their multi-facetted neighbourhood approach is panning out. The results so far have been inspirational for others. In times of major transition close cooperation, co-creation and clear communication are prerequisites.
As Ine Lobelle says: “We cannot do this alone.”
Sourced from a Dutch article by: Marie Swyzen, Photos: Joost Joossen