The city of Genk and EnergyVille are happy to announce that the Thor Science and Technology Park in Genk is the first regulatory sandbox in Flanders. Thor Park houses the restored mine building, the IncubaThor office building, the T2 Campus training center and the buildings of EnergyVille, the collaboration between KU Leuven, VITO, imec and UHasselt for research into sustainable energy solutions. In this regulatory sandbox, EnergyVille will be able to exchange energy between the different buildings on the site.
Some time ago the City of Genk, in collaboration with the other partners involved, applied for a regulatory sandbox at Thor Park. "Today Minister Zuhal Demir announced the Thor Park to be the first regulatory sandbox in Flanders. We are particularly pleased since this means that new opportunities are opening up for cooperation on the energy system of the future, " explains Mayor Wim Dries.
With their research, EnergyVille anticipates the changing energy system at Thor Park. Challenges are, for example, the mismatch between the less predictable production of sun and wind and the demand pattern of customers, changing consumption patterns of end users of technological innovations in the field of energy storage, smart charging of electric vehicles and smart control of heating and cooling. In addition to the theoretical part, experimental research activities are also essential.
With the approval to make Thor Park the first regulatory sandbox for energy in Belgium, all kinds of experiments can now be executed to prepare our energy system for the future. In line with the European policy package for energy, the so-called "Clean Energy Package", the focus will be on energy communities. The experimental research and demonstration activities can be divided into three clusters.
EXCHANGING RENEWABLE ENERGY LOCALLY
Firstly, we will conduct research into new energy services in order to better integrate and exchange (renewable) energy locally. The objective within the regulatory sandbox is to produce as much renewable energy as locally possible and to exchange surpluses efficiently. For example, the new parking building at Thor Park has a large roof area suitable for solar panels, but a relatively low consumption. Thor Central, the historic main building of the Waterschei mining site, cannot install solar panels itself but uses a lot of energy. An exchange between the two buildings is not permitted under current regulations, but within a regulatory framework, experimental legislation can be agreed upon in consultation with the Flemish government, VREG, Fluvius and a local market operator, which will then be tested in practice during a certain period. In this way, the impact and possible unexpected side effects can be mapped and based on this new regulations can be adjusted before they are officially implemented.
Secondly, the researchers will experiment with an innovative thermal network to optimally integrate renewable sources. For example, the consumption of the heat pumps can be adjusted to peaks in solar and wind energy to simultaneously produce, store and then efficiently deploy heat and cold where necessary.
Thirdly, we will implement innovative DC (direct current) networks and connections. Currently, the electricity grid operates on alternating current, while solar panels, batteries, LED lighting, computers, etc. operate on direct current and therefore adapters or inverters are required which results in losses. In the EnergyVille 1 building, researchers have been experimenting with direct current for quite some time, it is EnergyVille's ambition to widen these efforts to include a large part of the Thor Park. This way, the necessary technical solutions and regulations can be tested so that manufacturers can eventually bring standardized and safe products to the market.
“The recognition of Thor Park as a regulatory sandbox will allow us to gain insights that will support energy policy. We can experiment with technological innovations from, with and for Flemish companies without regulatory barriers. This makes it possible to internationally position Flanders as a model of innovation in the field of energy", says Ronnie Belmans, CEO of Campus EnergyVille.