Recovering heat for Helsinki

Cooling real estate generates heat. Global energy technology provider Oilon’s high-temperature heat pumps recycle that heat energy-efficiently into district heating systems. Many of Helsinki energy company Helen’s customers benefit from the heat recovery process. The heat pump’s energy-efficiency can be further improved with ABB’s variable frequency drive control.

In Finland, the heating of properties constitutes more than one quarter of the total energy consumption. Cooling is also often needed in buildings. For example, the newly developed part of the Hertsi shopping mall in Herttoniemi, Helsinki, is cooled using Helen’s carbon-neutral cooling. At its heart is Oilon’s heat pump.

Previously, the heat generated by cooling would have been released into the air, but heat pumps can now be used to return excess heat that can be used in the district heating network. The same concept is also used for cooling in, for example, the Haaga fire station and several retail stores in Helsinki.

Helen’s district heating network covers the entire city, but its district cooling network only covers downtown Helsinki.

“These combined cooling and district heating (CHC) solutions are becoming more common outside the district cooling area. Customers want easy, overall solutions – they prefer to buy heating and cooling services in one package,” says Timo Aaltonen, Senior Vice President, Operations and Asset Management, at Helen.

The simultaneous generation of heat and cooling is precisely where Oilon’s ChillHeat heat pumps come into their own. “One device is enough – there’s no need for separate equipment for heating and cooling,” says Martti Kukkola, Chief Business Officer, Oilon.

In the future, the importance of cooling will increase even further. Timo Aaltonen uses cars as a comparison. Previously, air conditioning was an expensive piece of optional equipment – now it’s a given. “The same will happen with real estate,” says Aaltonen.


Oilon’s ChillHeat heat pumps provide simultaneous heating and cooling.

Great advances in technology

Awareness of the possibilities offered by heat recovery technology has grown year by year. The ambition of governments, cities, and energy companies to cut emissions has grown at the same pace. In turn, this is increasing the demand for large-scale heat pumps.

“Over the past two years, our deliveries of industrial-scale heat pumps have grown by 90% annually. We are currently in the process of quadrupling our production capacity,” says Kukkola.

Heat pump technology has rapidly become an important technology for replacing combustion in heat production. “Heat pumps are the solution that enables the adoption of different heat sources,” Aaltonen says.

Helen’s goal is carbon-neutral energy production by 2030, at the latest. There will already be a major drop in emissions in the next few years as the Hanasaari coal power station is taken out of commission. To a large extent, the output of coal power stations is being replaced with heat pumps. Thanks to technology development, even low temperatures can be used as heat energy sources.

“Heat pumps can produce district heat even from five-degree sea water,” Aaltonen explains. Currently, Helen’s first sea water heat pump is being built in Vuosaari, Helsinki.

Increasing efficiency with frequency converters

Frequency converter technology plays an essential role in heat pump product development. ABB’s frequency converters increase the efficiency of Oilon’s heat pumps in almost all of its sites in Helsinki. Frequency converter control can be used for the variable rotational speed control of a heat pump compressor.

“A heat pump must be able to handle different load and temperature conditions. Frequency converter control enables precise control and a large partial capacity range,” Martti Kukkola explains.

Frequency converter technology has Finnish roots – the first frequency converter developed by the engineers of Strömberg controlled the speed of metro trains in Helsinki. In ABB’s hands, the technology has evolved into an extensive frequency converter range, and ABB Finland is responsible for the technology’s global product development.

“Our reasons for choosing ABB are reliability, an extensive range, and equipment that is functional from a techno-economic perspective,” Kukkola says.

Using Oilon’s and ABB’s technologies, Helen has been able to provide its customers with more energy-efficient solutions to cover heating and cooling needs. Valuable heat is produced in a climate-friendly way as a by-product of cooling.

“As a technology leader, we want to be the trailblazer for energy efficiency, and by cooperating with partners, we can do more and have a greater influence in this area. It is valuable to be able to build a more sustainable future with Oilon and Helen by combining Finnish innovation expertise,” says Mika Männistö, Sales Director, ABB Motion Finland.

Energy-efficient frequency converters and motors offer substantial potential for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. ABB encourages all stakeholders to cooperate within the framework of the Energy Efficiency Movement to bring about a comprehensive reduction in energy consumption.

Original Finnish text: Petja Partanen
Photographs: Olli Urpela

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