Helsinki Energy Challenge: Four international award winners announced

helsinki energy challenge
The city of Helsinki

An international jury has selected four winners from the 10 finalists in the Helsinki Energy Challenge. The four winning teams were announced during a virtual event introduced by the Mayor of Helsinki, Jan Vapaavuori, and will each take a share of the €1 million (approximately AU$1.54 million) prize fund.

The four winning proposals are:

HIVE, a flexible plan, based on proven technologies and solutions, such as seawater heat pumps, electrical boilers, solar thermal fields and demand side management measures; the plan is capable of integrating new technologies if and when these emerge.

Helsinki’s Hot Heart, a system made of 10 floating reservoirs filled with 10 million cubic metres of hot seawater that can receive different energy sources as input. Four of the cylindrical tanks that make up Helsinki’s Hot Heart would be enclosed with inflatable roof structures to create a new leisure attraction.

Helsinki Energy Challenge
The Hot Heart concept

Beyond Fossils, an energy transition model based on open and technology neutral clean heating auctions, paving up the path to carbon neutral Helsinki in a flexible and innovation enabling way.

Smart Salt City, a solution that melds a novel thermochemical energy storage and artificial intelligence with commercially available energy technologies.

Mayor of Helsinki Jan Vapaavuori said, “Cities must take the energy revolution into their own hands if we are to meet the accelerating challenge presented by climate change. While many cities have the raw ingredients for energy transition, the scale of the challenge requires leaders within city governments to create a policy environment that rejects the status quo and actively stimulates innovation and synthesis.

“The Helsinki Energy Challenge is one output of a City-wide mission to reduce our carbon footprint. Throughout my mayoralty we have operated under the policy that every action is a climate action. I’m proud that in Helsinki we are leading a search for new solutions that have global potential.”

252 Entrants from more 35 countries submitted outline proposals in the first stage of the year-long Helsinki Energy Challenge. Ten finalists in the challenge were notified on November 6, 2020, receiving €10,000 each to continue elaborating their solution in greater detail in partnership with the City of Helsinki. Final submissions were made on January 22, 2021, and underwent intensive evaluation by an international panel of experts, who included Hans Jørgen Koch, Nordic Energy Research; Markku Ollikainen, University of Helsinki & Chair of the Finnish Climate Change Panel; Robert Stoner, MIT Energy Initiative and MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design; Sanna Syri, Aalto University; Brian Vad Mathiesen, University of Aalborg and Martin YoungWorld Energy Council.

While this ceremony marks the end of the competition, it is just the start of building Helsinki’s future heating system to meet the city’s ambitious goal to be carbon neutral by 2035.

Helsinki is one of the leading cities in the transition towards a sustainable future, but its urban heating leaves a huge carbon footprint. Currently, more than half of Helsinki’s heat is produced with coal, a fuel source which will be outlawed in Finland from 2029. In order to achieve carbon-neutrality, Helsinki needs radically new solutions to meet demand for heating homes in the famously variable Nordic climate. Helsinki is not alone: to fight climate change, sustainable heating solutions are needed in cities all over the world–heating not just beyond coal, but also beyond burning biomass.

Project Director of the Helsinki Energy Challenge Laura Uuttu-Deschryvere said, “Through the Helsinki Energy Challenge, we have been led to new ways of thinking and approaches which would not necessarily have arisen without this competition.

“During the one-year-long process, it became clear that there was a need for our exceptional approach. Energy revolution and climate change mitigation require non-traditional means of finding solutions.

“As a result of our work with some of the leading innovators in urban heating from across the globe, we now have a very wide range of solutions in our hands, which we can utilise in our decisions in the future. The clearest winner of the Challenge is Helsinki itself. We have learned tremendously during the process and we will be sharing these lessons with all cities.”

The four winning teams presented proposals that represented a broad range of solutions, from major infrastructure such as floating heat storage islands, to market reform that will encourage innovation and aims to open the heating network for several heat producers

Together all 10 proposals represent a huge knowledge base presented by 42 European organisations from Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Poland, The Netherlands, France, Belgium, Italy, UK, Hungary. The organisations that submitted proposals range from tech start-ups to utility and technology companies, banks, engineers and architects.

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