Hundreds of proposals for helping Helsinki got to stop using coal for heat production

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The application phase of the Helsinki Energy Challenge ended on 30 September. The competition inspired 252 teams from 35 countries from around the world to participate. The participating teams presented their proposals on how Helsinki can stop using coal for heat production as sustainably as possible by 2029 and speed up its journey to becoming carbon-neutral by 2035.

The Helsinki Energy Challenge received a higher number of proposals than expected. Competition entries came from different parts of the world, from 35 countries in total – the majority from Finland, Austria, Sweden, the US, Germany, the UK and Canada. Many of the participating teams are great examples of cross-disciplinary and international competence – the competition inspired innovators from around the world to join forces.

The proposals entered in the competition involve several different types of solutions and plenty of brand new ideas and concepts. They include solutions in which existing technology is combined or used in new ways, as well as proposals that involve technological or non-technological innovations.

“During the discussions held in the first phase of the Challenge, it became obvious how extraordinary project we have launched and how many positive things it has brought in these otherwise difficult times”, said Mayor of Helsinki Jan Vapaavuori. “With the help of this competition, we wanted not only to find answers to our own energy challenge, but also to offer Helsinki as a platform where new, sustainable and future-proof solutions can be built. It seems we have succeeded in this extremely well, as well as in our goal to give rise to discussion and new kind of thinking on this important topic, both nationally and internationally.

Many other mayors from around the world have expressed their wish to follow Helsinki example and are looking forward to the lessons and solutions gained from the Helsinki Energy Challenge, Mayor Jan Vapaavuori also said.

Finalists selected in November

The entries will be evaluated during October and finalist teams selected early November. The evaluation criteria include the proposed solution’s climate impact, impact on natural resources, cost impact, implementation schedule and feasibility, security of supply, and capacity. The evaluation process will use the help of experts from various organizations to ensure that the best solutions will move to the next phase of the competition process.

A maximum of 15 teams will be selected for the final phase of the Helsinki Energy Challenge. These teams will be invited to the co-creation phase during which they will receive support for further developing their solutions, as well as additional information for tailoring their idea even better for the context of Helsinki.

The international jury will evaluate the final proposals of the finalist teams in the beginning of 2021 and the winner will be announced in March 2021. The City of Helsinki lives up to its global responsibility in the fight against climate change and is committed to sharing the results of the competition openly, in order to allow other cities to benefit from them in their own climate work.

Carbon-neutral by 2035

Helsinki’s goal is to be carbon-neutral by 2035. Currently, about 56 percent of Helsinki’s direct carbon dioxide emissions originate from the production of district heating.

Due to the cold climate, the heat demand in Helsinki is significant and has a strong correlation to outdoor temperatures and weather, thus it has been challenging to find a replacement for fossil fuels. The annual district heating production in Helsinki is approximately 7 TWh and currently more than half of this is generated using coal.

In Helsinki, the city-owned energy company, Helen Ltd., is responsible for the production, distribution and sales of district heating. Coal is used mainly in cogeneration of power and heat (CHP) and the two coal-fired CHP plants are located near the city center. The Hanasaari CHP plant will be closed permanently by 2024. To replace part of the capacity of that plant, the investment decision for one new biomass-fired heat boiler was recently made. The coal-fired Salmisaari CHP plant must also be shut down or converted to use other fuels by 2029, because the Finnish Government has made the decision to ban the use of coal in energy production from 2029 onwards.

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