A sustainable energy community is being built in Otaniemi

20.10.2022 7.20
Property Manager Emil Tikka of L&T, Indoor Climate Specialist Jesse Nieminen of ACRE and Senior Energy Specialist Mika Autiopelto of FCG Finnish Consulting Group on the roof of the Väre building in Otaniemi, which features more than a thousand square metres of solar panels.

Property owners are putting a lot of effort into finding ways to improve energy efficiency. In the district of Otaniemi, the solution of choice is source heat, which utilises heat recycling, solar energy and geothermal heat.

The Väre building, which was completed in the Otaniemi campus area in 2018 and is used by the Aalto University’s School of Arts, Design and Architecture, is a visually impressive work of architecture. That said, few know that the massive complex features technology that helps solve many of the key energy issues challenging the real estate field.

There are 74 geothermal wells under Väre, which are utilised by a heat recycling plant that contains nine geothermal pumps. The roof areas are decked with roughly a thousand square metres of solar panels. The heat generated by the sun as well as the people, lighting solutions and equipment in the area are recycled to heat the premises. The rest of the heat is stored underground. 

According to Indoor Climate Specialist Jesse Nieminen of Aalto-yliopistokiinteistöt Oy, this has helped keep the energy costs of the largely energy self-sufficient Väre complex in check during the coldest periods of winter.

“The energy self-sufficiency of the entire property stands at about 70 per cent. In practice, district heating is needed for heating service water and as backup during consumption peaks,” he says.

Source heat has potential

The lessons learned in Otaniemi can also be utilised in other schools, buildings and blocks that have cooling needs.

“There is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to recycling the heat loads generated by real properties. In the Väre complex, they are recycled to heat the premises,” says Senior Specialist Mika Autiopelto of FCG Finnish Consulting Group, who has been involved with the Väre project from the early stages of design.

For conventional blocks of flats, recycling also involves exploring and utilising other potential heat sources in addition to collecting heat from indoor air. Viable heat sources can include laundry rooms, drying rooms and the heat-generating refrigeration equipment of street-level shops, for example.

The same principle of putting together small streams can also be used to construct local energy solutions that serve one or more city blocks. An example of this, too, can be found in Otaniemi, where the majority of the heating and cooling energy for the Aalto Works block is produced by means of a recycling system utilising heat pump technology. The electricity is emission-free wind and solar energy.

Aalto Works supports the joint goals of the City of Espoo and Fortum to achieve carbon-neutral district heating by the year 2029 by demonstrating hybrid solutions that combine district heating and local energy. This journey of change is known as Espoo Clean Heat.

“The energy crisis has made the euro a key driver and signpost for solutions.” The climate is warning, which means that there is an abundance of extra heat energy. That said, we will not see an actual breakthrough until we can also produce electricity from low heat sources at a sufficient level of efficiency,” Autiopelto says, describing his visions for the future.

Accelerating the green transition

According to Sergio Motta, who works as a researcher at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, local energy communities formed by consumers, municipalities, facilities and companies will play an important role in the green transition. The key players are the consumers for whom energy communities provide more freedom of choice and opportunities to define their own energy consumption.

“Decentralised and renewable production go hand in hand in energy communities, which is why they also improve energy self-sufficiency and energy consumption,” Motta says.

He thinks that Finland has excellent opportunities to become a pioneer in the field. 

“In terms of communications technology and the digitalisation of electrical systems, Finland is already one of the leading countries. These are also key factors in the building of energy communities.

The concept of energy communities and local energy production is also in line with Espoo’s environmental and responsibility guidelines. The aim is to leverage wide-ranging partner cooperation to create innovative, local and sustainable urban solutions that can serve as global examples with regard to carbon neutrality.

“We want to create new operating models and services to promote renewable energy production and energy efficiency. More than half of the City of Espoo’s greenhouse gas emissions is generated by energy production. This is why it is one of the leading themes in our efforts to reach carbon neutrality by 2030,” says Development Manager Elina Wanne of the City of Espoo.

The promotion of low-emission energy solutions has been part of the Implementation Pathway for Environments that Accelerate Sustainable Growth (KETO) and A Solution Path to Sustainable Growth Ecosystems (RAKKE) projects. They have received funding from the European Regional Development Fund and Uusimaa Sustainable Growth and Vitality Support (UKKE) fund.

  • Sustainability
  • Climate