Something is growing on and around Thor Park. And you may want to take that statement quite literally, because Thor Park’s living lab – built on energy innovations led by EnergyVille – has an array of ambitious expansion plans in its pipeline. Today, these expansion plans were proudly presented in partnership with Stad Genk, Thor Park, Nieuw Dak, Stebo and Flux50.

oPEN Thor: in the context of the unique expansion is that the name which has been given to the test site. A test site, which – apart from the 100 hectares of science and business park – also includes the residential social housing area “Nieuw Texas” and parts of the adjacent Garden City suburb “Waterschei”. And oPEN Thor, by the way, isn’t a name that was plucked out of thin air, as the living lab’s expansion to include both residential areas will be realised within the framework of the oPEN Lab project: a renowned 20 million Euro European Green Deal-project that in the years to come will construct unique test sites for Positive Energy Neighbourhoods not only in Genk (BE), but also in Tartu (EE) and Pamplona (ES).

oPEN Lab: a unique European pilot project in Genk (BE), Tartu (EE) and Pamplona (ES)

Today, at Thor Park, the kick-off the of the oPEN Lab project – a project funded under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme – took place in the presence of the European Commission and both Flemish and European consortium partners.

With VITO/EnergyVille at the helm, 33 partners from 7 countries will be relying on “open innovation living labs” to collaborate to test, optimise and validate innovation processes, technologies and services with a view to realise Positive Energy Neighbourhoods (PEN) –  neighbourhoods which produce more energy than they consume thanks to a combination of energy-saving measures and efficient use of locally generated sustainable energy, in which energy storage and smart and flexible demand response make for an interaction with – and relief of – the energy system. Indeed, in a PEN, a whole range of innovations are gathered – innovations that, together, should enable the change to a climate-neutral built environment.

As such, the living labs are, as it were, “innovation hotspots” that initiate the transition to a future, wide-spread realisation of Positive Energy Neighbourhoods across the whole of Europe. In oPEN Lab Genk more than 30 properties – some rented out, some privately owned – will undergo a transformation into a test environment by being linked to the Thor Park living lab – a.o. by means of their own smart data platform. Apart from Genk’s test site, the European oPEN Lab project will equally encompass test sites in Pamplona (ES) and Tartu (EE).

“We are extraordinarily proud that the European Commission selected this project out of no less than 115 submissions, as this means it is put forward as the European renovation wave flagship – a wave, which in and of itself, is one of the main spearheads of realising the 2050 climate ambitions.”, says Maarten De Groote, project coordinator of oPEN Lab and researcher at EnergyVille/VITO. “With its mine site history, Thor Park’s reconversion into a sustainable business and science park symbolises the energy transition that is awaiting our society. The oPEN Lab project grants us the opportunity to join forces with Stad Genk, the Flemish industry and social partners to realise a positive transformation of the surrounding neighbourhoods – a transformation which will furthermore function as leverage for future, large scale renovation projects.”

oPEN Thor: a state-of-the-art living lab, bubbling with possibility

The oPEN Thor living lab – that encompasses Thor Park, the “Nieuw Texas” residential area, the Garden City suburb “Waterschei” and KRC Genk – will keep on functioning as a unique and permanent test environment for the activities initiated by EnergyVille and its partners, even after the oPEN Lab project will have come to an end. As such, the rollout of an innovative heat grid, a DC grid and an advanced data platform is equally foreseen on site – all with the intention of optimally putting to use the energy available and offering businesses a permanent test environment for the development of innovative technologies and services.

Hilde Crevits, Flemish Minister of Economy and Innovation: “In many a field, Flanders is a forerunner. And so, here too, when it comes to sustainable energy, we are making sure to get a head start. It is good that different partners join forces, as it allows for the development of unique innovative solutions that benefit the climate. With organisations such as EnergyVille, VITO and Flux50, we show the world today that Flanders too is at the forefront in the battle for a sustainable climate.”

Wim Dries – major of Stad Genk – is proud that his city gets to be the playing field for this unique test environment: “This expansion allows all stakeholders access to a state-of-the-art infrastructure, knowledge and an extensive ecosystem to validate innovative energy solutions in a real-life, safe, end-user environment. This co-creation and cooperation with partners such as Nieuw Dak, Stebo, Stad Genk, EnergyVille, Thor Park and locals living in the area is crucial to enable the pieces of the energy transition puzzle to fall into place, and it will help Stad Genk reach its ambitious climate targets.”

“Thor Park has been functioning as a low-regulation zone for quite a while now. The expansion of the living lab to include innovative energy sources, an advanced heat grid, DC grid and data platform is a logical next step to take. And, in doing so, we also open our doors to help shape technological innovations.  The oPEN Thor living lab is an environment which is constantly in flux: it is alive, it grows – it is an inspiring environment in which co-development and co-creation between scientific, industrial and residential partners take centre stage.”, concludes Gerrit Jan Schaeffer, EnergyVille’s General Manager.

The oPEN Lab project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Framework Programme under grant agreement No 101037080.

The 33 partners of the oPEN Lab project

VITO, Stad Genk, Flux50, imec, KU Leuven, Stebo, Nieuw Dak, Daikin Europe, Cast4all, Futech, Dcinergy, Litobox, Groep Van Roey, Habenu-van de Kreeke, Buildings Performance Institute Europe (EU), European Network Of Living Labs (EU), Bax & Company (EU), Pamplona City Council (ES), Tartu City Council (EE), Steinbeis Innovation (DE), Alonso Hernandez & Asociados Arquitectura (ES), Sympraxis Team (GR), Gren Tartu (EE), Institute Of Baltic Studies (EE), Tartu Regional Energy Agency (EE), Tallinn University of Technology (EE), Cener (ES), Obenasa (ES), University of the Basque Country (EE), Ifok (DE), University of Tartu (EE), Eesti Energia (EE), HES-SO (CH).

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