Energy Districts

How do we improve the energy performance of our building stock in a collective and affordable way, not only to reduce CO2 emissions and achieve our sustainability targets, but also to increase local entrepreneurship and improve the quality of housing?

Why an Energy District?

Display Case


We harvest knowledge and opportunities by walking on site. Through portraits of residents and experts, we collect what is going on and bundle the needs into a sharper question.

Action plan


The technology is ready for low-energy building, but only a collective approach can accelerate it. We need to share both space and energy. Working on a neighbourhood scale is key.

Building Site

1. Coordination platform: Local authorities and representatives from the district use a coordinated approach to jointly set up a platform to coordinate energy projects in the neighbourhood

A district's businesses, residents, managers and directors are determined to set up projects related to building renovation, local energy generation and energy storage. An energy district is not concerned with a loose collection of quick wins or pilot projects. On the contrary, there is a need for an integral and coherent programme that ultimately includes all buildings and households. To this end, a district-level, coordinating platform is established, where a town or municipality, together with local organisations such as schools, social housing companies, district centres and sports associations, as well as developers, energy suppliers, investors and citizen representatives, get together and are supported by experts (see the example of the ‘Coordinating platform’ in the Brussels Northern Quarter). This creates a structured form of exchange and a new organisational model for actors to work together. First and foremost they map out the energy potential and identify the needs and wishes of the residents (see, for example, the socio-technical mapping of Bospolder-Tussendijken in Rotterdam). A customised programme is subsequently developed within the coordination platform and a ‘district director’ is appointed to provide tailored support and unburden residents. The results are carefully monitored and the actions are adapted if need be. The district's transformation is a coherent and integral project.

bouwstenen: Brussels Northern Quarter Energy Coordination Platform LEAP Bospolder-Tussendijken
2. Collective renovation programme: The building and services sector develops the techniques and business models to tackle multiple properties at the same time

A selective approach applies in residential districts, such as insulating the roof or installing solar panels, primarily achieved by individual, wealthy residents. However, an integral and collective approach means financial-energy efficiency as well as social gains: lower quotations, faster building work, heat gains for neighbours, a stronger sense of community and social inclusion. Contractors and material producers adapt their business model so they can carry out fast, large-scale and collective renovation work (see, for example, the Dutch ‘Energy Leap’ or ‘Machiels Building Solutions’). At the same time we see it is quite a challenge to get all households in a district on board and that in Belgium a collective mentality is not commonplace. New organisations and intermediaries try and unburden people and thus develop a mobilising mechanism for collective renovation (see, for example, ‘Energent’, which goes from door to door in the district).

bouwstenen: Energent
3. Energy communities: Citizens and local organisations take ownership of energy-exchange projects in their district

The energy generated in a local energy community can be mutually exchanged, ideally between actors with different consumption patterns. Instead of feeding surplus power back into the grid, more people can benefit from locally-generated, renewable energy. For example, citizens can jointly invest in solar panels on large roofs in the neighbourhood (such as on a school or warehouse). This generates more energy than they can consume at certain times and the surplus can be shared or sold to members who need it at that moment. Making effective agreements about the distribution keys, the use of data and maintenance of the shared infrastructure is crucial in this scenario. The energy community takes control of its energy! A form of ownership and awareness emerges with regard to local energy generation and consumption. And even if you do not possess the capital to invest, you can purchase local energy at a lower tariff. Although at the moment directly sharing or selling power to neighbours is not yet legally permissible in Belgium, a new regulatory framework is currently being developed.

bouwstenen: SunGilles / Vlogaert Nos Bambins
4. New financing models: Private, public and cooperative players collectively establish an ambitious investment fund

New financing models must make it possible to roll out investments in the energy transition on a large scale. The current system of grants aimed at individual, wealthy citizens fails to reach enough people. An ambitious investment fund should be able to ‘keep rolling’: investment in the renovation of local generation pays for itself after a certain period of time and can be reinvested. Authorities can focus on social housing and vulnerable groups (see, for example, ‘Dampoort KnapT OP!’, in which ‘noodkopers’ (people forced to buy substandard property at inflated prices) are helped to renovate their homes). In addition, citizens set up (regional) cooperatives to install solar panels, wind turbines or heat grids (see ‘Klimaan’ in Mechelen). Many of them decide to reinvest the profits in local (social) projects. Finally there are private ESCOs (Energy Service Companies) that prefinance energy-efficient renovation work and develop new innovative products and techniques with the return on their investment (see ‘Wattson’). An investment model featuring a mix of private, public and cooperative resources can reconcile these three objectives.

bouwstenen: Energent Dampoort KnapT OP!
5. Public energy strategy: Local authorities adopt a strategic approach to the public space and their building stock

Lots of infrastructure in the public space or in public buildings, consume energy too. They simultaneously offer a great many opportunities for generating renewable energy. What if we installed solar panels on public roofs and used the power generated for street lighting, bus and metro stops or even electric charging points? Green and pruning waste from public parks could also be systematically collected and composted in a biogas plant (see the New Administrative Centre in Brasschaat). As a result, generating energy in the public space becomes a public service. Local authorities serve as a good example. They use the public space and buildings efficiently and the publicly generated renewable energy is made available to everyone.

bouwstenen: New Administrative Centre in Braaschaat
6. District buffer: Energy distributors provide storage capacity in the district as part of the fixed energy infrastructure

The major challenge in generating renewable energy is that it is not constant and thus (literally) varies depending on the position of the sun, on wind, water and the seasons. If we want to consume electricity or heat in the evening, which has been generated during the day, we have to be able to store it temporarily. Instead of buffering our energy individually, it is more logical to store energy at the district level (see the example of the district battery in Oud-Heverlee). It is more energy efficient and more interesting economically. But the technology is still being developed and is often extremely expensive. In order to structurally embed ‘district buffers’ they must form an integral component of our district infrastructure. Can we devise a system in which energy storage is structurally organised at the district level by the city or by energy distributors, similar to the way the sewer system or a heat grid works today? This would result in a form of public-private co-financing: the energy is generated in a decentralised manner by citizen cooperatives and the infrastructure is provided through a centralised set-up.

bouwstenen: Oud-Heverlee district battery
7. Heat grid: Industrial or other players supply residual heat. Grid operators and local authorities jointly invest in the public space

A heat grid uses residual heat from factories or other heat sources to heat homes and businesses (see ‘Oostveld’ in Eeklo). The central heat source is connected to customers using underground pipes, via a heat transfer station, and offers an alternative to existing, individual heating boilers. The construction of a heat grid requires major infrastructure works, is extremely expensive (at least a million euros per kilometre) and is thus only profitable if the entire district can be connected. Two or more connection junctures are often used, intended to gradually convince residents. The investment is also an opportunity to carry out work in the public space, such as to replace the sewer system, the climate-adaptive redevelopment of a paved square or to construct a new cycling path. Opening up the street offers opportunities to invest in the future.

bouwstenen: Warmtenet Eeklo (Eeklo Heat Grid)
9. Supra-local programme: Regional and federal governments develop the legislative framework, tools and knowledge to replicate energy districts

The energy transition and the corresponding large-scale wave of renovation work, are a European and national objective. This is why our supra-local authorities are developing the tools needed to support a multitude of local projects. Firstly they are working to create a stimulating environment in which energy districts can flourish: developing the incentive for having existing buildings switch to renewable energy and be renovated en masse (such as a CO2 tax on energy tariffs or the decision in the Netherlands to no longer use natural gas by 2050). Subsequently, national programmes play a role in learning from ongoing initiatives and in developing the necessary tools and capacity to support local districts (see the Natural Gas-Free Districts Programme in the Netherlands). Bundling and exchanging expertise leads to energy districts being replicated on the ground.

bouwstenen: Natural Gas-Free Districts Programme
8. Monitoring: Technology and innovation firms facilitate the analysis and transmission of data on energy consumption and generation

Continuous data assessment is necessary to align the variable peaks in renewable energy generation with consumption, to assess and adapt building performance and to identify possible opportunities to match stakeholders in the district and thus limit losses. This involves varying degrees: from collecting and visualising data, or a community dashboard that facilitates the exchange between shareholders, to a fully digital twin for taking real time decisions regarding an entire territory. Several new businesses and platforms are developing the technology and business cases required to carry out this data monitoring (see the example of ‘WeSmart’). In doing so it is crucial that more data is available and that possible privacy considerations (such as publishing personal energy bills, detailed 3D models and power generation data at building level) are clarified.

bouwstenen: WeSmart

Both private and public initiatives are putting their shoulders under the energy transition. How do all these Building Blocks fit into a legislative and spatial framework that stimulates investment and do we succeed in sharing the long-term profits fairly?

Discover the map with all the Building Blocks

Building blocks

Sharing renewable energy in the energy community
Sharing renewable energy in the energy community 'Nos Bambins'.
© Ivan Put
Nos Bambins
The pilot project ‘Nos Bambins’ in Ganshoren shares the power generated by solar panels on the roof of a school with several neighbours in the street, making it one of the first energy communities in Brussels.
Aerial view of the Northern Quarter, 2018
Aerial view of the Northern Quarter, 2018
© VOKA, 2018
Brussels Northern Quarter Energy Coordination Platform
The aim of the Coordination Platform is to bring together and put into use the tools, funds and stakeholders in order to make the Brussels Northern Quarter a Positive Energy District (PED). This body must develop a vision for the district as a whole and coordinate the various individual energy projects.
WeSmart dashboard community
WeSmart dashboard community
© WeSmart
WeSmart's digital community dashboard enables energy communities to consult their energy generation and consumption in real time, so they can take smart decisions and thus optimise their energy bills.
Work session - Bospolder-Tussendijken in the spotlight
Work session - Bospolder-Tussendijken in the spotlight
© Frans Hanswijk, 2018
LEAP Bospolder-Tussendijken
A coordinated approach for a Local Energy Action Plan in the Rotterdam district of Bospolder-Tussendijken is using the energy transition as a means to improve the whole district's standard of living.
Sharing solar power in SunGilles
Sharing solar power in SunGilles
© CityMine(d)
SunGilles / Vlogaert
In the SunGilles housing block tenants are involved in sharing the energy generated on the roof. This pilot project demonstrates how people without any capital can participate in an energy community.
Natural gas-free districts in the Netherlands
Natural gas-free districts in the Netherlands
Natural Gas-Free Districts Programme
By 2050, the Netherlands aims to be natural gas-free. The Natural Gas-Free Districts Programme is a supra-local programme that unites several local test sites to draw collective lessons, and set in motion the replication of natural gas-free (energy) districts.
Tree management in Brasschaat in the spotlight, Brasschaat
Tree management in Brasschaat in the spotlight, Brasschaat
© Brasschaat
New Administrative Centre in Braaschaat
In the New Administrative Centre in Braaschaat pruning waste from the municipality is used to heat the town hall.
Before and after the renovation, Gent
Before and after the renovation, Gent
© Fred Debrock, Gent
Dampoort KnapT OP!
In the Dampoort KnapT OP! project the OCMW set up a rolling fund to ensure vulnerable families can also carry out the necessary energy renovation work.
Eeklo heat grid, 2017
Eeklo heat grid, 2017
© 2017
Warmtenet Eeklo (Eeklo Heat Grid)
The Municipality of Eeklo is taking the lead in Belgium with the construction of its heat grid. The heat grid is not only the largest in the country, but is also controlled by citizens.
Door-to-door round Neighbourhood Site
Door-to-door round Neighbourhood Site
© Energent
Energent invests money from its cooperative members in renewable energy projects and in achieving energy savings. In addition, the organisation is committed to providing related energy services to mobilise and unburden citizens.
Klimaan citizen movement takes action
Klimaan citizen movement takes action
© Klimaan vzw
Klimaan is an example of a cooperative that uses citizens’ capital to invest in renewable energy as well as in other commons such as water, land or air. Klimaan is a regional community with locally-anchored subgroups.
De Vlaamse Staak: future-proof, sustainable business park
Wattson is a Belgian ESCO (Energy Service Company). The company focuses on the integral renovation of projects, which combine several energy-saving measures with installing renewable energy. Wattson makes the investments, which are repaid using the budget freed up as a result of the lower energy bills.
District battery Oud - Heverlee, 2021, Oud - Heverlee
District battery Oud - Heverlee, 2021, Oud - Heverlee
© Tim Dirven, Oud - Heverlee 2021
Oud-Heverlee district battery
The first district battery in Oud-Heverlee demonstrates that energy storage at district level to eliminate generation peaks and unburden the electricity grid, can evolve into an innovative and collective district project.



De Standaard
Jef Poppelmonde
De Groene Amsterdammer
Marcel ten Hooven
De Tijd
Henk Dheedene en Sofie Vanlommel
Internationale Architectuurbiënnale Rotterdam (IABR) / Gemeente Rotterdam
CIVIC architects, IABR
Vereniging Deltametropool
Dirk Sijmons, Erik Frijters, Rens Wijnakker, Jasper Hugtenburg, S. Stremke, Boris Hocks, Marco Vermeulen, Paul Gerretsen
Access to Land
Collective document coordinated by Jofre Rodrigo (Xarxa de Custòdia del Territori) and Veronique Rioufol (Terre de liens)

Landscape and Energy - Designing Transition

Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi Uitgevers/Publishers)
Dirk Sijmons, Fred Feddes
Departement Omgeving
Low Tech Magazine