Helsinki energy company Helen to go climate neutral

  • Cities & District Energy News
  • 11 September 2018
  • by City of Helsinki

The City of Helsinki’s fully owned energy company Helen Ltd complements Helsinki’s plan to render the city carbon neutral by 2035 with its own plan to shift to climate-neutral energy production: today a producer of district heating, power and district cooling in combined processes largely based on coal and natural gas, Helen seeks to cut carbon dioxide emissions fully by 2050. Helen’s interim goal is to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 40% from 1990 to 2025.


Helen has achieved a world-leader status in its combined cooling, heat and power (CCHP) processes, which feature a yield rate of 91.1% and have been recognized with several international awards. The company looks at an accomplishment of similar magnitude in transitioning from fossil fuels and centralized production to climate-neutral energy production.


“We can’t leave any stone unturned,” says Helen’s climate and energy efficiency manager Rauno Tolonen, referring to Helen’s need to apply a wide range of solutions to secure Helsinki’s heat energy supply, which is the company’s main mission.


Today 90% of Helsinki’s heated building stock uses Helen-supplied district heating, 61% of which is produced with coal and 28% with natural gas at Helen’s four combined heat and power plants in Helsinki.


According to plan, Helen will close the largely coal-fired Hanasaari power plant in 2024. Climate neutrality will necessitate further plant modifications.


“Our first step on the road toward climate neutrality will be biomass-based energy production – at least for some time into the future, we’ll need to burn something in winter,” Tolonen says. Several biomass energy plants are under development by Helen.


“We will rely more and more on distributed solutions,” Tolonen continues. The palette of solutions includes energy recycling, energy storage, and increased utilization of locally produced renewable energy.


Helen already utilizes several unique energy recycling concepts. The company opened the world’s largest heat pump plant – the underground Katri Vala plant – in 2006 to produce district heat from purified wastewater by recovering the heat contained in the water.


The concept of recovering waste heat with heat pumps and utilizing it as district heat has since been applied to data centers, where the heat produced by servers is captured.


The concept is increasingly applied to properties, as Helen’s district cooling network expands. The network – Europe’s third largest and fastest growing system – gathers solar energy by recovering from properties surplus heat that is largely produced by solar radiation: the cold water used for cooling is heated in the process, and the heat is recycled with heat pumps.


Heat pumps will produce 10% of Helsinki’s district heat once a new heat pump plant underneath a downtown park is in full production. Heat pumps produce more than 90% of Helsinki’s district cooling.


Helen will convert former fuel oil storage facilities in the Helsinki bedrock into storage facilities for hot and warm water to be used for district heating during times of peak demand. “These storage facilities are a tangible metaphor of our transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources,” Tolonen points out.


The Mustikkamaa heat storage facility, to be built in 2019–2021, will store 260,000m3 of water heated in Helen’s energy processes. The amount of stored energy will be adequate to cover half of Helsinki’s hot water demand for four days.


The former Kruunuvuorenranta oil terminal’s 300,000m3 underground storage facility, proposed for redevelopment, would be the first of its kind worldwide for seasonal energy storage: the cave would be filled with warm sea surface water in summer, and the stored heat would be used for district heating in winter.


The underground hot water lakes will be similar to Helen’s first-of-their-kind underground lakes of cold water used for district cooling.


Much of Helsinki’s future renewable energy will be produced locally at properties, which will be able to feed excessive solar power to the grid. Helen promotes the trend by providing technology. The company specialists are developing solutions to recover waste heat from properties, as well as new geothermal energy solutions.


“Key roles in achieving climate neutrality will be played by innovation – by new technologies and solutions still to be developed,” Tolonen asserts.


Helsinki announced a plan in March 2018 to render the city carbon neutral by 2035. Helsinki’s definition of carbon neutrality is to cut greenhouse gas emissions generated within the city borders by 80% and to offset the rest.


Helen’s plan for climate neutrality by 2050 is separate but vitally supports Helsinki’s plan. Helen’s definition of climate neutrality is to reduce net carbon dioxide emissions to zero with no offsets.



City of Helsinki climate action:

City of Helsinki:


Source: City of Helsinki

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