Zellik, 18 November 2021 - With a push of the virtual button, Flemish minister of economy and innovation Hilde Crevits today launched the Smart Village Lab. This innovative living lab is the first physical realisation of the Green Energy Park, which was founded by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel and will investigate how living in the future can become smart, sustainable and energy-efficient.
Accelerator of the energy transition
Via an innovative, safe and lifelike living lab, Green Energy Park makes it possible to provide scientifically substantiated answers to questions of how Flanders can make the transition to an electric vehicle fleet and energy-efficient living.
The Smart Village Lab consists of six houses that exchange electrical and thermal energy via a Smart Energy Grid, an energy network to which collective energy systems are connected, such as neighbourhood batteries and collective charging infrastructure for electric cars. This makes it possible to model numerous scenarios and to examine how and when which technologies can be used and how we can best make them interact. For example, solar panels can be linked to an electric car or a home battery, to washing machines or to a heat pump, and the neighbourhood battery can be charged at times when the price of electricity is low. To make this possible, distribution network operator Fluvius installed two large electricity cabins on the site, each 9m long. One is set up as a standard electricity cabin with a 1,000 kVA transformer and smart technology to communicate with Fluvius’s central grid management system. The second cabin is a first in Flanders and offers space for all kinds of equipment for live testing of new energy techniques.
Emerging trends such as energy sharing, energy communities and Positive Energy Districts bring technical challenges and require innovative systems at the administrative level to track and bill energy flows. This is an additional area in which the Smart Village Lab is doing pioneering research.
The living lab is also used for education and training of technical staff, and schools and the general public are welcome there. This allows everyone to become acquainted with these innovations and their importance in society’s energy transition.
Facilitator of innovative energy solutions
In Flanders, new hardware and software are being developed at a rapid pace by both leading international companies and small home-grown start-ups. Thanks to the Smart Village Lab, these innovations can immediately be tested and refined in a real environment, which benefits the quality of these products and accelerates their rollout.
This is one of the reasons why ABB is building its new Experience Centre on this site, as the first in a series of investments by private partners. Flemish and European research and development projects can also make use of the state-of-the-art test infrastructure for their new technologies, which will boost their results.
Hilde Crevits, Flemish minister of economy and innovation: With the Smart Village Lab, Flanders is strengthening its pioneering role in research and innovation in the sustainable energy transition. The lab is a leader in Europe. Our research groups and companies will work together to develop innovative, sustainable and smart technologies for the whole world.
Caroline Pauwels, rector VUB: Scientific progress is based on a constant interaction between theory and practice. In the Green Energy Park, ideas that have taken shape through fundamental research are tested for their practical consequences, while the results raise new fundamental questions. This is how knowledge advances, which is why living labs like this are particularly important for knowledge institutions.
Jimmy Van Moer, managing director Green Energy Park vzw: There is no single technical solution that will make the energy transition possible, but it will be an energy system in which the various energy vectors such as electricity, heat and hydrogen reinforce each other. The Smart Village Lab is a “real-life” environment where knowledge institutions and companies can safely experiment and shape these innovative solutions. We also want to create an environment where companies are encouraged to develop this energy system together. With the Smart Village Lab, we want to support the energy transition by stimulating cooperation and forming a bridge between research and the economy.
Frederik Loeckx, managing director Flux50: Energy transition can only succeed if we can get the users on board and relieve them of the burden as much as possible. What exactly is meant by this unburdening, however, is ambiguous. It is therefore crucial that we are able to test solutions before bringing them to the market. A “living lab” must have the ambition to do just that: to minimise the gap between what the customer wants and what technology can offer. At Flux50, we want to make these kinds of sites known and connect them with each other.
European and Flemish support
The development of the Smart Village Lab was made possible thanks to the cooperation with Flux50, the Flemish spearhead cluster for energy. Its supports the development of the living lab through the Interreg project RegEnergy and the European Regional Development Fund Smart Multi Energy Lab (SMEL), together worth €1.1 million.
For the realisation, VUB is investing €1.6 million. The research in the domain “energy and mobility” is coordinated by the EVERGi team within the VUB research group MOBI and supported by European Horizon2020 and Flemish ICON projects.