Revamping District Heating

In Finland's capital Helsinki, more than half of all district heat is produced from coal, resulting in the heating sector contributing well over half of the city's greenhouse gas emissions. Pushed by the national ban on coal in energy production as well as Helsinki's goal to become carbon neutral by 2030 (moved up from 2035), the city launched a global competition to revamp its district heating system. As part of this Helsinki Energy Challenge, the city announced a USD 1 million prize competition for the submission of master plans that eliminate coal-based heat without increasing the share of heat from biomass. More than 250 teams from 35 countries submitted proposals during 2020. That December, 10 finalists were invited to refine their plans, and by March 2021 four winners were selected, demonstrating feasible, localised plans. The winning proposals suggested a diverse set of solutions: 1) a market-based strategy, using carbon-neutral heating auctions; 2) a mixture of novel thermo-chemical energy storage with already commercially available technologies; 3) a continually evolving plan that integrates new technologies while using existing technologies such as heat pumps and electric boilers in the interim; and 4) taking advantage of the nearby Baltic Sea to install inflatable hot seawater reservoirs that can double as leisure attractions.

Although formal plans have not yet been announced to implement the winning proposals, Helsinki has set a precedent showing that collaboration and innovation are possible and necessary for making the future of heating carbon-free. As part of this challenge, the city also announced that it would share winning proposals and solutions with other city governments to inspire them on how to decarbonise their heating systems.

Source: See endnote 63 in chapter 07.

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