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

Mar 19, 2024

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 (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 userfriendliness 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 energypositive, 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 (partner 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.