PhD position Digital twin for data driven control, commissioning and continuous design optimisation of positive energy neighborhoods

Job description

VITO and KU Leuven closely collaborate in the research line Buildings and Districts in the EnergyVille research center. Together we are looking for an enthusiastic and motivated PhD-student in the field of Positive Energy Neighborhoods (PENs) and building energy simulations. The aim of the PhD-project is to develop a methodology for generating a digital twin of a PEN which is trained and continuously improved by analysing the operational data of an existing neighborhood. Informed by this digital twin, a method is developed to continuously evaluate the performance of the PEN and suggest changes in the control strategy or future investments in the technology mix of the PEN.


Buildings play an important role in the energy transition. Their energy demand should be drastically reduced, renewable energy sources should be integrated and they should exchange energy whit each other. To do so Europe encourages the development of Positive Energy Neighborhoods (PEN) which are energy-efficient and energy-flexible urban areas or groups of connected buildings which produce net zero green- house gas emissions and actively manage an annual local or regional surplus production of renewable energy. The PhD-project is focusing on energy neutral and zero-carbon buildings and built environments. Knowledge of building energy flow and the simulation of these flows is essential. Independence and initiative, reliability in team work and good communication skills are similarly valuable. Finally, a suitable knowledge of spoken and written English is required.

The position is open for applicants holding a Master of Science in Engineering (or equivalent): Architecture, Civil Engineering, Energy, Mechanical Engineering or Electrical Engineering with a strong interest and experience in the field of energy in buildings. Knowledge and experience in the following fields will be relevant:
• Building energy simulation, especially MODELICA (to model buildings, equipment and electrical systems)
• Design and operation of buildings and the built environment
• Object-oriented programming, software development tools
• Use of statistics and Artificial intelligence in the built environment
• Integration of Renewable Energy in the built environment

In your CV and motivation letter you should clearly indicate your experience and knowledge in the above mentioned fields and why you are interested and motivated to acquire expertise in the other fields.

If you are selected as a candidate, you will be asked to outline a more elaborated project description of about 10 pages and defend this before a jury before being selected for the scholarship. You can apply while currently being a MSc-student, but you have to have obtained your MSc degree with at least distinction before the date of appointment.


The backbone of the PhD is a toolchain that constructs a digital twin of the PEN, relying on capturing operational data and subsequent automated data analytics. In the setup of such digital backbone for a PEN, the PhD student will research amongst others:
• The type of operational data required [at appliance level, building level, street level,…] and their technical characteristics such as frequency, granularity and precision
• Protocols to gather such data irrespective of vendor and owner of the equipment
• GDPR proof methods to handle data at PEN level (scalable privacy-preserving big data aggregation: respect privacy while still having maximum insights from data at lower granularity)
• Methodological approaches to train the digital twin model by the gathered data (initial training), and methods to iteratively update the digital twin of the district

The digital twin will be used to continuously monitor the performance of the district under study and compare this to the predicted performance goals. The PhD student will develop a proof-of-concept application to support the management of the PEN. This application will be able to suggests adjustments to the PEN control strategies (controlling multiple assets such as local storage, EV charging, etc. and multiple energy vectors) and allows to evaluate the impact of changes in the PEN technology mix.

The research will be based on past and current research at the Building Physics and Sustainable Design Section at KU Leuven and the SEB DEMO team (Unit Sustainable Energy and Built environment at VITO. There will be a close collaboration with researchers from EnergyVille.


• The successful applicant will receive a full-time scholarship for four years to do research to obtain the PhD-degree in Civil Engineering
• You will participate in exciting scientific projects on PENs. The research will be carried out at the EnergyVille research center in Genk and at the Building Physics Section from the KU Leuven.
• EnergyVille is actively collaborating with industry which enables you to expand your professional network.
• You will receive training from the Arenberg Doctoral School at University of Leuven, one of the top European Universities, providing an excellent research environment.
• You will have access to state-of-the-art technologies, core facilities and technical support
• You will gain experience in many transferal skills and receive personalized mentoring.
• You will also have the opportunity to participate in local and international conferences and thus expend your scientific network
• Full funding is available but the successful candidate will be encouraged to also apply for additional fellowships

Job requirements

  • The applicant must have attained a master’s degree with (at least) a “distinction”, or equivalent.
  • The applicant can submit a grant request at the latest 5 years after attaining the master’s degree. If an applicant possesses more than one master’s degree, this rule only applies to the degree from the study area applicable to the doctoral proposal.
  • The applicant must have a perfect record of conduct.


Successful candidates are encouraged to apply online.
The application file should contain a motivation letter, detailed CV, copies of latest degree and transcripts and the names and contact details of 2 referees. You can register until 31/07/2023 for the jury of September 27, 2023.
For more information please contact Dirk Saelens, tel.: +32 16 32 13 43, mail: or dr. Dorien Aerts (
The University of Leuven is an equal opportunity employer, committed to excellence through diversity.

You will become a PhD student in Building Physics and Sustainable Design Section of the Department of Civil Engineering at KU Leuven and the SEB DEMO team of VITO. The Building Physics and Sustainable Design Section at KU Leuven is active in Leuven, Genk and Ghent and currently consists of 8 faculty members and some 30 doctoral and postdoctoral researchers. The section's research targets heat and mass transfer in porous building materials, durability of (highly insulated) building components, and the energy use and indoor air quality in buildings and the built environment. The SEB DEMO team of VITO (Unit Sustainable Energy and Built environment; team District Energy Modeling) focuses on algorithm development for Planning & Design and for Monitoring & Control of building and district energy performance. The KU Leuven promotor for his PhD will be Prof. Dirk Saelens. At VITO dr. Stijn Verbeke and dr. Dorien Aerts will supervise the research. You will work both in Leuven and Genk. Globally, the intention is to spend 50% of your time in EnergyVille, Genk.