European innovation project turns New Texas in Genk into Residential Neighborhood of the Future


In the residential area of New Texas, Genk, a concerted effort is underway to convert 35 homes into a ‘living lab’, a real-life testing ground for new, energy-efficient technologies. Spearheaded by the housing company ‘Wonen in Limburg’, in partnership with VITO (as a partner within EnergyVille) and the City of Genk, the project entails renovating 27 rental properties while residents continue to inhabit their homes. What distinguishes the oPEN Lab project is its tailored approach, with each home incorporating different techniques to optimize energy efficiency, affordability, and user-friendliness for all stakeholders involved. This initiative positions New Texas as a pioneering laboratory, engaging industrial partners in the pursuit of innovative solutions. oPEN Lab, funded with 20 million euros, stands as a cornerstone European Green Deal project, with analogous endeavours underway in Tartu (Estonia) and Pamplona (Spain).


The renovations in Nieuw Texas are integral to the larger European project ‘oPEN Lab’, nested within the ‘Open Thor Living Lab‘ initiative led by EnergyVille, the City of Genk, and Thor Park NV. By participating in this project, Wonen in Limburg, along with the involved partners, aims to address the climate goals of 2050. Over the forthcoming months, the Waterschei neighbourhood will undergo a transformation into a hub for testing various technologies, both individually and collectively. The project spans across Europe with parallel initiatives in Estonia, Spain, and Genk, focusing on the renovation of single-family homes. The 27 properties managed by WiL are set to become energy-positive, generating surplus energy.

A total of 16 innovative techniques will be implemented across the 35 homes (27 WiL rental properties and an additional 8 private residences), each serving as a canvas for experimentation with new techniques and combinations thereof. Key considerations include energy efficiency, affordability, and user-friendliness. Integration of the technologies into an external energy box will not only streamline maintenance but also conserve space. Coordinated by VITO (within EnergyVille), collective energy management strategies are also under exploration, with excess energy being connected to a so-called ‘energy hub’ within the neighbourhood. Such continuous monitoring will facilitate adjustments to ensure optimal performance tailored to each home’s needs.

For the research organization VITO/EnergyVille, investing in the energy transition of existing neighbourhoods with ‘real people’ represents a logical step in the agenda for urban energy research:

Inge Neven, CEO of VITO: “We must shift from viewing houses as standalone structures. The energy transition requires us to embrace a more integrated, collective approach to neighbourhood energy systems, where the interaction with the energy system becomes more bidirectional. ‘Wonen in Limburg’ is the ideal partner for this innovation journey, as they manage the buildings and have a strong relationship with the residents. Without them, this project, which combines technical and social innovation, would not be possible.”

The uniformity of homes in New Texas renders them ideal for this experiment, enabling standardized renovations, so that different techniques can be tested under identical conditions. With a new prefabricated building envelope for the renovation, disruption to residents is minimized, who will remain in their homes during the renovation process.

“We’re committed to minimizing disruption for residents, hence the crucial involvement and participation of the community in every project phase – from the preparation and execution of the work. Through co-creation, we’ve fostered direct collaboration between various technical partners and tenants. This project’s innovation lies not only in its technology but also in its participatory and progressive approach,” explains Raf Drieskens, chairman of Wonen in Limburg. “For example, each residence will have a thermostat that uses colours to indicate when solar energy is most profitable and energy is cheapest, a concept derived from collaboration between tenants and technical partners.”


Works commenced in February, preceded by thorough preparations since late 2021. Completion of all 27 homes with new technology integration is slated for post-summer vacation this year, with each residence undergoing approximately 20 working days of renovation.

Mayor of the City of Genk, Wim Dries: The energy transition is a challenge on a human level. We can perform tests in labs or in the virtual world, but that is still not the same as testing in a real living situation. Here we turn theory into practice and test in real life. Many thanks to the families who are willing to participate and help shape this living lab. You are making a difference! Thanks also to all partners – Wonen in Limburg, VITO, Open Thor and oPEN Lab – for making this possible and to Europe for supporting this project. I am looking forward to the results and new techniques that can help people take another step towards the energy of the future.


oPEN Lab is a collaboration between 32 international players from 7 countries, including the following Belgian partners:

And constitutes a unique testing ground within the Open Thor Living Lab.

The oPEN Lab project received support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, under agreement number 101037080.

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