As a society, we are facing a huge challenge in scaling back our CO2 emissions. One of the answers to this complex issue might be to come up with new and sustainable solutions. Wonen Limburg, the province’s biggest housing corporation, is also engaged in this field. The company is actively working to take part in the energy transition. Veronique Bremmers, Energy program manager at Wonen Limburg, has more information to offer on this topic.
A big challenge
‘We manage over 26,000 existing residences. So the scale of the task is absolutely enormous. But of course that doesn’t just apply to our corporation. In 2011 we started a process to increase sustainability and we have covered more than 7,000 homes so far. We are going to continue this process in the years ahead, handling an average of 1,000 residences per year. But that won’t be the end of it! We will have taken the first step in the energy transition: improving the building envelope (insulating it). Right now, 5% of all our residences are all-electric, so they are not dependent on natural gas. This is mostly new construction, but also includes some renovated buildings.’
A neighbourhood-friendly approach
As program manager, Veronique is responsible for three projects: label upgrades, installation of solar panels, and renovation of buildings to make them energy-neutral. ‘Specifically, our existing residences are being better insulated, solar panels are being installed, and new residential construction is all-electric, as it has been since 2017. In this way, we aim to make the biggest impact in terms of increasing the sustainability of our residences. We are currently preparing our existing property stock for the next step in the transition, and this entails a wide range of solutions, such as district heating networks, all-electric, or… a technique that we don’t know about yet. We realize that we can’t do this on our own. That’s why we are opting for an integral, neighbourhood-friendly approach for the years ahead and are also bringing in new partners to help us with this. For example, we have entered into a collaboration with Brightlands Materials Centre.’
Stay in the lead
‘We want to continue taking big steps in the energy transition. We are able to influence market demand precisely because we own so many residential properties. We hope to accelerate the implementation of innovations in this way. Affordability is very important to us. Through these innovations we also want to reduce the costs that our tenants have to bear; they are key to everything we do. One way to achieve this is to maintain our lead in terms of innovation.’
Bremmers agrees that there are massive gains to be had in the use of smart and innovative building materials. ‘We are constantly looking for new ideas and applications to design homes in an even smarter and more efficient way. What new materials or technologies can we incorporate into our houses to insulate the residences even better or to heat and cool them in a different way? Right now we are wrapping the houses in an exterior shell that is over 20 centimetres thick. This modification is incredibly pricy and entails some hefty investments. Look at the aerospace industry for example, where the outer shell of a space rocket is only a few centimetres thick. This inspires us. We want to expand our horizons and to keep asking ourselves whether we are doing the right things at the right time.’
A grant application, submitted in collaboration with the Brightlands Materials Centre for the development of what’s referred to as ‘smart glass’, also demonstrates that Wonen Limburg is engaged in truly pioneering work. ‘We submitted a proposal to the European Commission for a new project. This involves the development of a new glass coating by Brightlands Materials Centre. The window will keep out the heat in summer but let these heat rays through in winter. This is an incredibly interesting development for us at Wonen Limburg, because there is increasing demand not only for heating in winter but also for cooling in the summer months. In this project, we are taking the position of end user in the chain. We are able to collaborate in thinking about the applicability of these innovations. For example, what requirements must a window like that meet? What must it look like in terms of colour? How are we going to transport this window and how can we apply the technology on a large scale? As a housing corporation, we are both the sales outlet and the market. We translate these ideas directly into practice.’
That sounds optimistic for the future, but there’s more. Wonen Limburg invites everyone to contribute to the process of thinking about how to meet the energy transition challenge. ‘On 30 September we are organizing an innovation pitch together with our chain partners and the Brightlands Chemelot Campus. We encourage everyone to join us in the thought process and to bring along good ideas that we can develop further. If you have a good idea then you can sign up. That way we will all work together to make the place we live a little bit nicer and more sustainable!’
Innovation pitch: getting Limburg ready for tomorrow
Can you think of a concrete solution to make residential construction more sustainable? Do you know a smart way to make residences CO2-neutral or a good step in that direction? Submit your idea before 15 July by signing up with the form on this website: www.limburgklaarvoormorgen.nl.