The EU funds a number of programmes for making homes more sustainable, with the Horizon 2020 fund specifically focusing on innovation. Horizon 2020 is financing the Syn.ikia project, which is running demo projects with zero-energy neighbourhoods in four countries. Area in Uden is proud to be working on one of these four projects, says Project Manager Thijs van den Oord.
Here in the Netherlands, we have plenty of technical know-how and expertise when it comes to building zero-energy homes. What we now need to look at is how any short-term overcapacity of locally generated solar energy can be used efficiently. That is what the demo project is all about. Options include supplying energy to an adjacent building, or storing energy from solar panels. Such solutions can also resolve energy grid issues when demand peaks in the neighbourhood. Thijs: “Moving on from a building-focused approach to a neighbourhood-focused approach sounds logical, but it’s actually a complex matter.”
How is this being tackled at European level?
“Syn.ikia is a Horizon 2020 project and as such is part of a large-scale innovation scheme funded by the European Commission. It serves to demonstrate what the possibilities are, which is why we talk about demo projects rather than pilot projects. There’s one demo project in a neighbourhood in four different climate zones – in Norway, the Netherlands, Austria and Spain. Each project has its own developer and specialists. Through this chain approach, we are able to learn from each other, and the ultimate goal is to scale up to new neighbourhoods.”
How did Area become involved?
“Housing Europe asked us to participate. We co-wrote the project proposal and the subsidy was awarded in late 2019. A technical university in Norway (NTNU) is the driving force behind the project. We are playing our part by making a new housing project available, and TNO (the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research) is our Dutch knowledge partner and consultant.”
What stage are you at now?
“The project will last for four years, from exploratory studies through to implementation and monitoring. We’re now entering our second year and have started digging the foundations. The developing contractor, Hendriks Coppelmans, has been working on the various systems, including solar panels, a heat pump, ventilation systems and insulation. Sensors will also be incorporated into the homes. Using the predictive digital twins TNO is developing, along with sensor data, we’re looking into how we can use the energy in the homes as efficiently as possible. We’re working with Itho, the manufacturer of the heat pump, to tinker with the settings as we take weather forecasts into account, and we’re also looking at the most efficient time to fill the boiler.”
What demands is the project making of you?
“In my role as project leader, I’m devoting one day a week to it, with two colleagues providing assistance. I serve as the link between knowledge innovation and practice. One of my colleagues will soon be focusing on the aspect of the residents, making sure they’re aware of the building’s possibilities and helping them to use energy efficiently. The work isn’t too demanding and I find it energising. TNO does a lot and we receive help from the Buildings Performance Institute Europe where European regulations are concerned.”
What are the benefits for Area?
“At Area, we’re always looking for ways to distinguish ourselves in terms of sustainability and innovation. This project is providing us with a knowledge advantage. The technologies we’re currently devising and putting into practice can easily be used in any subsequent projects. Sharing knowledge and experience with our European counterparts is extremely interesting. And it’s not costing us very much at all because the time we’re putting into it is subsidised.”