In the light of its ambition to transition towards climate-neutrality by 2050, the Flemish Government approved the “Flemish long-term renovation strategy“ in May 2020. This directive stipulates the need for all residential buildings in Flanders, both existing and newly built, to strive for an EPC-classification A. Unfortunately, our patrimony is still far away from this ambitious goal with a renovation rate barely surpassing 1%. The Flux50 ICON-project “Digital Twins for Upscaled Retrofits (DITUR)”, ending in March2023, is however steadily leading the way in the right direction, partly thanks to the energy research executed at imec-MICT.
We had a chat with MICT-team member dr. Bram Van Acker, senior researcher at the research group for Media, Innovation and Communication Technologies, Department of Industrial Systems Engineering and Product Design, Ghent University.
Digital Twins for Upscaled Retrofits
01/10/2020 - 30/09/2022 (prolonged to March 2023)
Involved UGent professors
Prof. Koen Ponnet, Prof. Jelle Saldien
Hi Bram! They commonly say that Belgian people are “born with a brick in their stomach”, reflecting our natural desire to have our place as own property. Unfortunately, this appears not to be the case when talking about renovations.
“The renovation rate is indeed way too low, despite the fact that a lot of technologies and data are already accessible since quite some time. There are however a couple of factors hindering mass-scale renovation for the majority of citizens. One of these reasons is, quite obviously, the investment that comes along with the large scale renovation needed to attain the desired energy performance level. On the other hand, renovating is also a quite demanding process. You need to find contractors, compare quotes, etc. All these aspects contribute to a certain perception that we, as a regular citizen with often a full-time job, would not be able to handle these responsibilities.”
How does DITUR try to counter these governing barriers?
“Investment costs may be reduced by creating a scale effect via group purchases for example. To reduce the second barrier, we need to take away part of the burden from the individual citizens. For these purposes, the project team of DITUR, led by AGC Glass Europe, created an online platform in close collaboration with the city of Aalst, RENOCITY (renocity.be), that offers a personal prediction of the current energy performance of your house based on 3D-simulations and available historical data, all gathered in a unique digitized representation of your house. Based on this prediction, the tool then proposes a selection of possible renovation packages. We even take our service one step further and work together with a renovation expert who coordinates the group purchase by getting in touch with contractors and comparing the associated quotes. This is thus what we mean with taking away some of the burden from the owners.”
The research of MICT is at the boundary between technology and behavioral sciences. How did this expertise exactly fit within the creation of this online platform?
“What we often encounter in real-life is the so-called attitude-behavior gap. A lot of people want to do something but eventually end up not doing it anyway. At MICT we intend to use technology to support and motivate people to take action and consequently convert attitudes into behavior. The RENOCITY-platform is a textbook example. With this tool we unambiguously show that the energy performance of your house is substandard. Based on 1000 surveys in Flanders, we tried to understand the major concerns of the target groups and identify which triggers could contribute to converting good intentions into real action. This feedback was subsequently reflected in the design and configuration of the online platform.”
"A lot of people want to do something but eventually end up not doing it anyway. At MICT we intend to use technology to support and motivate people to take action and consequently convert attitudes into behavior. The RENOCITY-platform is a textbook example"
Could you provide some examples of such concerns or social triggers?
“A first thing that obviously pops to mind when talking about renovating your house, is the quality and reliability of the contractor who will execute the renovation. How can users of an online tool know that the involved companies are good in what they are doing? This is the kind of information we are incorporating in the online environment. People are furthermore very influenceable by social norms. If the social environment approves or even motivates certain actions, we are more inclined to do it ourselves as well. Within this and other projects, we try to capitalize on such social norms by means of clear visibility for instance. We put posters on windows indicating that houses are being renovated, similar to when an estate agency is selling a house, we use banners of RENOCITY, indicate how people compare to similar others, etc. “
Did you already notice some clear effects of the conducted research?
“A tremendous amount of people have embarked on the online platform to request a digital audit of their houses and RENOCITY has, via the group renovation expert, provided them with profitable renovation packages. Based on these efforts, we are quite proud to say that in the meantime quite some people have already signed renovation contracts stemming from the RENOCITY-platform, leading to a doubling of the renovation rate from the current 1% in Flanders to 2%.”
A snapshot from the RENOCITY platform resulting from the DITUR project
"We are quite proud to say that in the meantime quite some people have already signed renovation contracts stemming from the RENOCITY-platform, leading to a doubling of the renovation rate from the current 1% in Flanders to 2%"
How will the results of DITUR now further find their way into our day-to-day life?
One of the big questions that’s still on the table is related to the further exploitation of the tool. A lot of different stakeholders may benefit from it, from glass producers over insulation companies towards the eventual end users. Creation of the digitized version of your house is however quite a costly procedure as there are a lot of drone photos necessary to map and estimate the associated energy performance. The ideal business model is hence still under study. In the meantime, RENOCITY was however already demonstrated at the Clean Vision Summit 2022. The platform arose interest from other fellow cities such as Ghent, Roeselare, Antwerpen and Leuven. There was furthermore very positive feedback from the Cabinet of Minister Somers, responsible for Home Affairs and Cities. Chances are hence quite substantial that we will see a further roll-out of the tool in the future.
The future of RENOCITY is looking bright. Wonderful to hear that your research has the potential to be the start of something big. Thank you very much, Bram!
Interested? Check our the website: https://www.ugent.be/mict/en/research/projects/2020/acroniem-2013-ditur