SocialLowCostFlex - Collaborative flexible low-cost energy supply concepts for social housing

This project aimed for feasible low-cost solutions, which allow residents of multi-party houses, with special focus on social housing to profit and participate in the energy transition process and associated trends (e.g. community generation units, exploitation of flexibility). The results of the project are low-cost concepts and business models of community generation units and utilization concepts, tested for their feasibility in a social housing complex. These concepts are based on special requirements of different lifestyles in low-income households and take the framework of social housing such as tenant fluctuation into account.

Short Description


Completed (January 2023)

Starting point, content and results

The current energy transition and the increasing number of decentralized power generation units pose complex challenges to the current energy system. Different systematic concepts and models, such as community energy generation facilities and energy communities, provide new prospects to overcome these challenges at a local and regional level. Usually, the implementation of these concepts implies substantial costs, which excludes social groups, such as low-income households. Additionally, people living in rented accommodation mostly do not have decision-making power over environmentally effective improvements of their apartment (e.g. through installing PV systems) and have hardly any incentive to invest in third-party property. Furthermore, the energy transition leads to disproportionately rising costs, especially for low-income households (rising energy costs, rising grid fees etc.). The transition of the energy system, however, has to be comprehensive and inclusive for all social groups and must not lead to (further) exacerbation for vulnerable groups.
The research project Social Low Cost Flex aims to provide feasible low-cost solutions, which allow residents of multi-party houses with a special focus on social housing to benefit from and participate in the energy transition process and associated trends (e.g. community generation units, exploitation of flexibility). The project analysed the following elements of collaborative use of renewable energy systems: 

  1. community energy generation facilities in social housing, 
  2. innovative distribution keys considering social dimensions, 
  3. innovative tariff schemes considering social dimensions, 
  4. integration of thermal flexibilities through automation, 
  5. joint investment of citizens for community PV systems.

The viability of these concepts was validated in simulation and optimization models based on monitoring data from test households and verified in one housing complex in Vienna. The social acceptance of the concepts above was assessed by means of quantitative and qualitative empirical surveys among tenants.

Results show that the operation of community energy generation facilities is economically feasible and beneficial not only for investors but also for end-users. Long-term agreements for tariff schemes help alleviate energy poverty, provide green energy supply to the broad public and reduce the dependency on fluctuating prices. Community energy generation facilities have a high level of acceptance among citizens, which provides a solid basis for further implementation. Innovative (currently legally unfeasible) distribution keys that take social aspects into account allow for a redistribution of financial benefits. In this way, primarily vulnerable households benefit from reduced energy prices. Households' approval of such distribution keys, however, is comparably low, especially among wealthy households. Among low-income households, on the other hand, a distribution key that takes social aspects into account is the preferred approach for energy distribution. Also, a (legally possible) redistribution of benefits within the community through innovative tariff schemes, which consider social aspects, proves feasible: while vulnerable customers benefit from very low energy prices within the community, other customers pay slightly higher prices, which are still below market prices. As a result, all community members generate savings, but savings of vulnerable households are larger. Again, households' approval of such an intra-community social tariff is in the mid-range compared to other tariff options and declines with rising income of respondents. Respondents express several concerns, with the definition of entitlement and for a social tariff and its ongoing monitoring being the major concerns.

The deployment of additional hot water storages is not economical in the case study. The total electricity consumption increases enormously due to these technologies. If these technologies already exist within a building, the rising electricity consumption leads to higher self-consumption. The deployment of an additional heating rod or heat pump, which uses solely self-generated electricity to heat a community thermal storage, results in marginal savings for the community. The usage of the heating rod leads to reduced electricity tariffs due to increased self-consumption. The usage of a heat pump leads to savings due to enhanced efficiency.

Citizens, regardless of their social status, perceive joint investments of citizens in community PV systems positively. Overall, there is a lack of information in the population on such forms of investment. Social aspects play only a tangential role in the decision on an investment, whereas profitability and environmental impact are more important.

Project results affirm the unexploited potential for renewable energy generation in social housing and other multi-apartment buildings. The profitability analysis of a demonstration site shows that the implementation of a PV-system and the integration of thermal flexibilities are economically viable for all reviewed scenarios. Socially balanced distribution keys and tariff schemes within a community provide savings for all participants, but disproportionately higher savings for vulnerable participants. The societal evaluation shows, on the one hand, a high level of support for renewable energies and investments in energy transition regardless of social groups of respondents. On the other hand, the acceptance of distribution keys and tariff schemes with redistribution mechanisms represents a decisive barrier for implementation of these innovations. Further research on how to increase public acceptance especially among wealthier groups is needed.

Project Partners

Project management

University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien, Competence Area Renewable Energy Systems

Project or cooperation partners

  • 4ward Energy Research GmbH
  • Wiener Netze GmbH
  • Avantsmart

Contact Address

University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien, Competence Area Renewable Energy Systems
DI Frederike Ettwein, MSc.
Standort ENERGYbase, Giefinggasse 6, 1200 Wien
Tel.: +43 1 333 40 77 – 6678