City Labs as positive engines for energy transition – Insights from oPEN Lab and other projects

Apr 29, 2024

As an answer to the high energy prices and significant inflation across Europe, the European Commission is promoting initiatives to reduce energy consumption and increase energy savings to reduce the energy bills of citizens. One of the initiatives supported by Europe is the creation of energy communities to empower stakeholders to control their own energy on a local scale.

The oPEN Lab project aims at creating Positive Energy Neighbourhoods (PEN) in 3 European Cities, Genk, Pamplona, and Tartu. According to oPEN Lab, PENs aim for energy-efficient and energy-flexible groups of connected buildings and urban areas which produce net zero greenhouse emissions from energy use on an annual basis and actively manage an annual local or regional surplus production of renewable energy, based on an integrated, participatory, neighbourhood-based approach.

On 24 April 2024, the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL), together with the oPEN Lab project and the Energy working group from ENoLL, orchestrated an online event titled “City Labs as Positive Engines for Energy Transition.”

Under the moderation of Koen Vervoort, the session dived into the drivers and barriers encountered by energy communities across various European cities.

Learning from oPEN Lab

The event commenced with Maarten De Groote, coordinator of the EU-funded project oPEN Lab, accentuating the significance of a neighborhood-centric approach in steering energy transitions within cities. Over the past two years, oPEN Lab partners have engaged in co-creation activities with tenants and local stakeholders. This year, the focus has shifted towards the start of renovations, notably in Genk, Belgium and in Pamplona, Spain.

Evi Lambie, presenting the Living Lab in Genk, emphasized the key role of households to tailor renovation technologies to suit specific dwelling needs. The challenge of renovating inhabited spaces was tackled head-on, with objectives set to execute renovations within a short timeframe of four weeks, necessitating full tenant cooperation and flexibility.

Tanja Croci from the City of Genk underscored the social dimensions of renovation, advocating for inclusive and community-centric approaches to ensure that no individual is left behind in the energy transition journey.

From Pamplona, Luis Torres shared insights on the barriers encountered in establishing energy communities, including regulatory ambiguities and citizen awareness deficits, subsequently necessitating proactive engagement strategies.

Merit Tatar elaborated on Tartu’s Living Lab ambitions, particularly focusing on engaging neighborhoods grappling with diverse challenges, including aging infrastructure and social difficulties. Renovation in this case often perceived as a luxury rather than a necessity.

Despite difficulties, the Living Lab in Tartu is able to showcase innovative best practices such as Renovation as a Service (RaaS) and construction price tools to facilitate stakeholder engagement and financing access.

Beyond oPEN Lab

Eik Buhl Petterson elucidated Copenhagen’s starting journey in fostering energy communities through the LIFE Beckon project, while Sara Tachelet of highlighted the burgeoning landscape of citizen energy cooperatives across Europe. Sara underscored the multifaceted roles of energy communities and persisting barriers such as administrative complexities.

Valentino Piano pursued the discussions by accentuating the pivotal role of Living Labs in supporting energy communities.

The event concluded on an optimistic note, affirming the imperative for collaborative efforts and innovative approaches to surmount the challenges posed by the energy transition journey within cities.

You can rewatch the session here.