Helen’s coal-powered combined heat and electricity plant in Helsinki on 17 February 2021. (Jussi Nukari – Lehtikuva)


THE CITY OF HELSINKI has set its sight on achieving carbon neutrality five years ahead of schedule, in 2030 instead of 2035, reports YLE.

The Finnish capital has estimated that meeting the objective will require a decline of 80 per cent in emissions compared to 1990, a tall ask in light of the assumption that the decrease in transport emissions caused by the coronavirus epidemic is only temporary, according to the public broadcasting company.

The target does not include emissions from, for example, food consumption and air travel by local residents.

A lot hinges on Helen, an energy utility owned by the City of Helsinki. With the utility replacing coal with natural gas and increased the use of excess heat from sources such as wastewater, the city has recorded a roughly 33-per-cent drop in emissions from district heating since 1990. The energy from wastewater and other green sources, though, has only sufficed to offset the increase in heat consumption in Helsinki.

Kaisa-Reetta Koskinen, the head of the climate unit at the City of Helsinki, on Thursday reminded YLE that because emissions reductions were not really pursued in the 1990s, it is only natural that a dramatic drop is witnessed at the tail end of the decades-long monitoring period. Achieving the target will nonetheless be challenging, she acknowledged.

“Our estimates do indicate that it’ll require a very brisk pace and very hard work, but it’s possible,” she said.

The task, she viewed, is made easier by policies introduced nationally and at the EU. Increases in taxes on fossil fuels and prices of emission rights will raise the cost of using coal and natural gas, also affecting many households in the city given that most of the district heating is produced from coal or natural gas.

The revised carbon-neutrality target should not have a dramatic impact on the plans of Helen. The utility should be close to the 80-per-cent target after shuttering its two coal-powered power plants, a move it has to make due to the ban on using coal for energy generation coming into effect in 2029.

It is presently exploring utilising two large energy sources to replace the plants’ output: heat from the sea floor and the excess heat from oil refineries in Kilpilahti, Porvoo. If neither of the plans materialises, it is also prepared to investigate utilising a number of smaller sources.

“One big solution is always more economically viable,” reminded Maiju Westergren of Helen.

“But we’re also preparing for using more of the smaller solutions that we’re using right now: geothermal energy and […] the excess heat of data centres and other sources in the city,” she commented.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT