Open Thor Living Lab - State-of-the-art infrastructure at European level of excellence
To tackle major societal challenges such as the energy and climate crisis in a rapidly changing world, innovation is indispensable. New technologies and services should be given every opportunity to be rolled out quickly and efficiently. To help enable this growth and to test these energy solutions extensively in a real context, EnergyVille – a research collaboration between KU Leuven, VITO, imec and UHasselt – , the City of Genk and Thor NV initiated the Open Thor Living Lab in 2021. This living lab – which stretches across Thor Park, the New Texas residential area, the Waterschei garden district and KRC Genk – acts as a unique testbed to investigate and accelerate new energy concepts and technologies to market. The backbone of it all? State-of-the-art technology at European excellence.
To further develop this technology, particularly to link existing and test infrastructure being developed and to professionalize the management structure, the Flemish government is giving the go-ahead for a fundamental expansion of this living lab. “One of the things we are investigating in the living lab is how to make the best use of locally generated energy. After all, we want to avoid electricity, heat and cold surpluses as much as possible or, where this is not possible, recover, store and exchange them between different sites, buildings and users. Through interconnections between buildings and so-called energy hubs – which will be located in the New Texas housing development and the Thor science park – we can connect different energy flows (both heat, cooling and electricity) within the Open Thor Living Lab and optimize local energy exchange. In addition, we are now setting up the Open Thor Living Lab as a new company together with the City of Genk and Thor NV, so that for all users of the research infrastructure of the Open Thor Living lab there is a clear point of contact and we can take the management to the next professional level”, clarifies Gerrit Jan Schaeffer, General Manager at EnergyVille.
Electricity grid of the future
An innovative direct current (DC) grid is also being built. Currently, our electricity grid works by default on alternating current (AC grid), while solar panels, batteries, LED lighting, computers, etc. work on direct current. This requires converters, resulting in energy losses. “If we look in the future at a large parking lot at a shopping center, it might consist of a parking garage with charging stations and solar panels on the roof or a parking lot with PV carports and charging stations. Since all of these systems operate internally on direct current, it seems logical to connect this via DC/DC. But test setups to optimize the security and control of such technology combinations do not exist today. In other words, there is a lot of interest in DC solutions and DC microgrids,” said Gerrit Jan Schaeffer.
Towards a climate neutral Flanders by 2050
Ultimate goal is to innovate with governments, businesses, citizens and knowledge institutions to accelerate the energy transition and achieve a climate neutral Flanders by 2050. “Flanders resolutely draws the card of innovation and provides 6.5 million euros of funding for the Open Thor Living Lab. It’s a story of how, with Thor Park and EnergyVille, we’re not just developing tomorrow’s sustainable energy solutions in the lab. Through the Open Thor story, we want to actually start testing this on Open Thor and in Genk’s neighborhoods. This way we want to demonstrate to citizens how these innovations can also make their lives more pleasant and better. Through innovation we can scale up technological applications, make them cheaper, and at the same time create economic growth and new jobs,” concludes Jo Brouns, Flemish Minister of Economy, Innovation, Work, Social Economy and Agriculture.