Helen, previously known as Helsingin Energia, is a front runner in renewable and non-combustible energy, and the company has been chosen several times to be the best and most eco-friendly urban energy producer. The company aims for carbon neutrality by 2030, and it offers easier everyday life for more than 550,000 customers in Finland by heat, cooling, electricity, and various solutions. Helen delivers district heating to more than 90% of all properties in Helsinki. The company’s system that combines the district cooling and district heating networks is the third largest in Europe and the most rapidly growing one.
For Helen, one significant advancement in terms of energy-efficiency was the 2006 commissioning of the world’s largest heat pump plant that delivers heating and cooling. The heat pump plant is located in Helsinki under the Katri Vala park. It was recently expanded with the sixth heat pump, while an expansion with the seventh one is under way. In addition to adding the new pumps to the automation system, Insta has updated and expanded the plant’s automation and renewed its remote operating interface.
"What we are doing in practice is expanding the automation and improving its security and usability. As our operations are increasingly focused on non-combustion energy production and because the role of the Katri Vala plant will only grow as coal-fired plants are phased out, we want to secure our production in order to minimize any automation disturbances", explains Senior Project Manager Mikko Kaartinen, who works at Helen with carbon neutral distributed production projects.
The two newest heat pumps can heat up to 65,000 one-bedroom apartments
The sixth heat pump, completed in summer 2021, replaces energy from the Hanasaari power plant, which will be decommissioned in April – in other respects, the heat production will be replaced with a bioenergy heating plant in Vuosaari, the storage of energy, and heat trade with Vantaa Energy. The massive, seventh pump is scheduled to enter the production stage in spring 2023, and it is the first one to replace the use of coal at the Salmisaari power plant.
"All of our investments aim at phasing out coal. The Katri Vala plant’s heat pump investment is based on the utilization of waste heat in energy production, which is an excellent way of producing carbon neutral energy", Mr. Kaartinen says.
At the moment, waste heat is recovered from purified wastewater with heat exchangers that convey it to the existing heat pumps. As the wastewater cools, it is conveyed back to the wastewater discharge tunnel. Following the completion of the newest heat pump, some of the cooled wastewater will be taken directly to the heat pump evaporator, which enables the better and more effective recovery of waste heat.
The sixth pump is larger than the plant’s first five heat pumps. It has a district heating capacity of 21.5 MW and a district cooling capacity of 14 MW. The seventh pump is one of the largest in the world, with an impressive length of 22.5 meters. It has a district heating capacity of 32 MW and a district cooling capacity of 21.5 MW and, together, the two pumps have a total capacity equivalent to the heating need of approximately 65,000 one-bedroom apartments.
The future energy and heat solutions focus on heat pumps, the recycling of waste and excess heat, and electrification of heating
Mikko Kaartinen says that, in addition to implementing a smart carbon neutral energy system, Helen aims at driving energy awareness. He explains that the role of heat pumps has grown significantly as the interest in utilizing various energy streams has increased. Jussi Hirvonen, Executive Director of the Finnish Heat Pump Association SULPU, agrees. He says that heating is becoming electrified and that it is heat pumps that deliver the most worthwhile solution for the transition to non-combustible energy. Mr. Hirvonen describes that they have an advantage of utilizing low ambient temperatures and waste heat for heating as well as cooling.
In 2022, nearly 200,000 heat pumps were sold in Finland, which means that their sales grew by more than 50%. Mr. Hirvonen says that the increase in energy prices, the desire for independent heating solutions and the Russian invasion of Ukraine contributed to the growth in sales. In Finland, the total investments in heat pumps already amount to €8 billion, and the figure is expected to grow further. However, the progress is being slowed down by the international shortage of components and equipment as well as the lack of resources in terms of relevant businesses, planners, and installers. The plans for the electrification of heating in the EU’s Fit for 55 and REPowerEU packages require having 50 to 60 million heat pumps already in 2030. There are currently 20 million heat pumps in Europe and, therefore, this means tripling the figure within seven years.
Extensive collaboration in various automation engineering and turnkey delivery projects
Insta is familiar with the Katri Vala heat pump plant, as the company supplied the original automation as a turnkey delivery. Insta’s extensive history with Helen also includes other automation engineering and turnkey delivery projects related to district heating and cooling, such as valve centers, heat plants, or heat pump plants as well as automation and application engineering for the massive underground cold accumulators below downtown Helsinki and the Pasila district. Mikko Kaartinen is happy with working with Insta.
"My history with different projects implemented with Insta spans 10 years, and the first one was the Lassila heating plant. To me, Insta is a flexible company that is able to implement projects well, thinks on its feet, and listens to the customer. Insta is an expert organization that knows what it is doing and that has comprehensive resources for the more challenging changes in automation as well as simpler implementations", Mr. Kaartinen explains.
Since the project started in January 2020, the challenges faced have included COVID-19 as well as the component shortage. Mikko Kaartinen says that the conditions have demanded flexibility from both Helen and its partners because of the changes in the plans.
"Even though the commissioning schedules for the sixth heat pump fluctuated, the plant was commissioning on time and with good results, all things considered. With the seventh pump, however, the changes in the geopolitical situation have impacted the availability and delivery times of materials, resulting in rescheduling activities between the different parties", he says.
After the completion of the seventh pump, Helen is done with the changes to the Katri Vala plant. The company will, however, continue its investments in renewable energy. Mr. Kaartinen says that, among other things, the company is looking into how it could utilize seawater heat recovery at the Salmisaari energy production area in the production of district heating.
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