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. In order to reach the carbon-neutrality goal, these emissions need to be significantly reduced.
Due to the cold climate, the heat demand in Helsinki is significant and has a strong correlation to outdoor temperatures and weather. The capacity needed to generate heat especially on cold winter days is substantial. The volume and variation of the heat demand means that 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.
New sustainable solutions are needed to meet Helsinki’s heat demand. Various different solutions to replace coal have already been analysed but thus far, the best future-proof solution, or set of solutions, remains to be found. One way forward could be an increased use of biomass, a route that many other Nordic cities have already chosen or are adapting to. Helsinki refuses to go with the flow. Biomass is not a long-term sustainable solution, due to several reasons (e.g.): biomass is not an emission-free solution and use of it has an impact on carbon sinks; increased use of biomass would also mean logistical challenges and on a global scale, it will not solve the climate challenge either due to its restricted availability. The City of Helsinki is committed to making sure that further investments in biomass-fired production units will not be needed and instead is looking for long-term sustainable solutions on its journey towards a carbon-neutral future.
Detailed information about the current heating system in Helsinki as well as other Helsinki-specific information can be found in the background report prepared for the Helsinki Energy Challenge: