With the Urban Energy Pathfinder, VITO/EnergyVille has a handy, versatile tool with which renovation and energy strategies can be simulated at various levels. The tool's strength lies in its combination of bottom-up operation with a holistic approach, which is very useful in the decarbonisation of urban environments. 

(De Mandel) 

The Urban Energy Pathfinder (UEP) was developed three years ago at VITO/EnergyVille, as the result of a collaboration between various units. The planning tool, which helps local and regional authorities to make the energy transition, is therefore fundamentally multidisciplinary in nature. The UEP works at the level of individual buildings as well as districts, whole towns and cities. And as a simulation tool for the built environment, the UEP not only helps to draw up renovation plans but also provides insight into the potential of renewable heat. Hence, the tool can give a boost to the renovation market and is also useful for companies active in that market, such as engineering and planning firms. 
The renovation market could certainly use a boost. Every year, only 1 % of Flanders's building stock is renovated. For Flanders to achieve its climate goals, a renovation rate of at least 3 % is needed. The factors that are blocking a thorough renovation are well known: high investment costs, lack of financial incentives due to the low price of fossil fuels and the drastic nature of thorough renovations. 

Digital twin for renovations 

With the DITUR project (Digital Twins for Upscaled Retrofit), VITO/EnergyVille wants to do something about this. Until mid-2022, this Flux50-ICON project will investigate how data analysis can be a catalyst for neighbourhood renovation projects in order to increase the renovation rate in the short term. This is done by combining innovative data into a digital twin of the building stock for two types of pilot cases: city districts (in Aalst and in Roeselare) and a social housing estate (in Roeselare). To this end, VITO/EnergyVille works together with the city councils involved and with the social housing company De Mandel. Other partners involved are AGC, June, Zero Emissions Solutions, Avineon, imec and Ghent University.

One of the key elements of DITUR is the integration and combination of data on buildings from very different sources: general and freely available 'open' data but also detailed private data. "The open data mainly come from a kind of 3D scan of the built environment in Flanders," says Glenn Reynders of VITO/EnergyVille. "These data include the built volume, the wall and roof area, but also information such as the number of windows. In this pilot project, we link these data to electricity or gas consumption data, obtained for example from residents with a digital meter. This gives us a concrete and very detailed idea of the renovation potential of buildings and neighbourhoods." 
Ultimately, as many buildings as possible in Flanders will have to be upgraded energetically to the highest EPC level (the A label). Reynders: "This requires extensive work for many buildings, which at first glance seems expensive. Therefore, in this project, we optimise the possible renovation on the basis of each individual building's boundary conditions. We have already seen that this pays off: in a social housing estate comprising some two hundred homes, we arrive at a cost that is only half as high as renovating using a uniform approach." 

Data play a crucial role in DITUR. Therefore, the willingness of private individuals to share privacy-sensitive data (such as energy consumption) is also being investigated. To what extent are people prepared to do this, knowing that they will receive concrete renovation advice? And what data solutions are there to handle privacy in the simulations? These are the sort of questions we are seeking to answer. "We are studying, for example, how people react to general or very personal questions where this data request is linked to a concrete renovation simulation. If enough people are convinced of the usefulness of such simulations, it will be easier to convince local residents and to win them over," according to Reynders. Thus, the project provides a great opportunity to study user involvement in renovation and energy solutions. 

Roadmap to a carbon neutral Genk 

GEENkool is another project developed by the UEP over the past year. With this project, the city of Genk - home to EnergyVille - wants to develop a roadmap towards carbon neutrality by 2050. Here too, the greatest gains will have to come from building renovations, although the integration of low-carbon energy sources also plays an important role. The project path follows both a bottom-up and a holistic approach, and does so by following two 'tracks': a planning track and an action track. "Governments are often not lacking in ambition when it comes to climate objectives," says Rutger Baeten of VITO/EnergyVille. "But just announcing their ambitions or organising a signing ceremony does not make them a reality. In the planning track, we examine what these ambitions mean for the city of Genk in concrete terms for the local built environment, but also for sectors such as industry and mobility. By linking the energy needs to the goals, we are working towards each other's targets." It is also important for a local government to know where and how it can have a meaningful impact. This, too, requires a planning approach.

In the short term (the next few years), the action track will examine what new projects can still be launched and what current initiatives can be accelerated or expanded. "We want to set up energy yards quickly and very concretely," says Baeten. "They can then possibly be supported by the Flemish post-corona recovery plan, called 'Vlaamse Veerkracht'." 
The GEENkool project intensifies the cooperation between VITO/EnergyVille and the city of Genk. "As a former mining town, energy is in Genk's DNA," says alderman Toon Vandeurzen. "That is why we are now resolutely opting for a sustainable energy future. We are pleased to be able to join forces with VITO/EnergyVille as a stepping stone to a genuine Genk energy coalition." 
For VITO/EnergyVille, the project, which is financed from the city budget, offers new opportunities to research, simulate and experiment with even more aspects of energy in an urban context. 

A dynamic 'heat zoning map' 

Cities and municipalities wanto know how big the heat demand is in a given part of their territory, can use the Flemish Heat Map (Warmtekaart Vlaanderen ). However, it is based on buildings' current heat and energy demand, making the map somewhat static over time. At the request of the Association of Cities and Municipalities (Vlaamse Vereniging voor Steden en Gemeenten - VVSG), a consortium including VITO/EnergyVille will therefore develop a more dynamic version of this map, which will be called the 'inspiration map of heat zoning'. This will be based on simulations of heat demand looking towards 2030 and 2050. 

Policy makers will be able to consult the 'heat zoning map' to know the heat density in a given area, and thus to assess whether it is (or will be) high enough for a heat network, or whether it would be better to opt for an individual energy solution. Thus, the map will help cities and towns pave the way towards fossil-free heating and cooling of buildings by 2050. 
The new project once again demonstrates the huge potential of the Urban Energy Pathfinder, which will be used to make heat demand simulations. 

More info
DITUR: glenn.reynders@energyville.be