This success story is part of a series published within the MAKING-CITY project. The series aims to showcase the experiences of key stakeholders within the project. In this story, we learn about Oulun Energia Group, a Finnish energy company based in the city of Oulu.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND OULU ENERGY.
My name is Mikko Ojala and I’ve been working at Oulun Energia in different positions for about eight years. Currently I am working as a process engineer in the development team of our heating services department. I have a master’s degree in environmental and energy engineering from the University of Oulu.
Oulun Energia Group has a solid foundation in energy production and in providing heat and electricity to the people. Oulun Energia was founded in 1889 and employs approximately 240 professionals in the energy industry today. We take responsibility for people and our environment, and our goal is to achieve carbon neutrality in our energy production by 2030.
WHEN AND HOW DID OULU ENERGY FIRST BEGIN WORKING ON POSITIVE ENERGY DISTRICT PROJECTS?
MAKING-CITY is the first PED-project Oulun Energia has been a part of. Oulun Energia was involved in the definition of the project as a municipality owned energy company and we have played a big role in defining the energy systems for the Kaukovainio PED-area. I joined the project as it had been approved and the actual project began.
WHAT IS OULU ENERGY’S INVOLVEMENT IN THE MAKING-CITY PROJECT?
Oulun Energia provides the heating solutions for the buildings in the PED-area together with the building owners. We also provide distribution of excess heat and electricity through our district heating and electricity networks.
WHAT KIND OF ENERGY SOLUTIONS WERE IMPLEMENTED IN MAKING-CITY? WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES?
Oulun Energia installed five heat pump systems in five building that utilize excess heat from the return side of the district heating as well as excess heat from exhaust air in one building. We installed solar panels to three of the buildings that provide electricity for the heat pumps. We also extract excess heat from the CO2 pumps in the Arina supermarket and distribute it via our district heating network. We have also developed a control system to balance and optimize the energy flows in the area.
There were minor problems in the retrofitted houses with getting the new heating equipment into the buildings, as the buildings are not necessarily planned for transporting such big and heavy equipment. There were also minor challenges in the installation of the equipment, as the systems were quite complex. We also couldn’t install vertical solar panels to one of the buildings as planned, as there were concerns about the load-bearing capacity of the older walls.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THESE ENERGY SOLUTIONS?
The energy solutions installed provide a flexible PED-solution that can be optimized based on consumption and production as well as energy production costs. They also provide possibilities in demand side response. The district heating network and the electricity network provide cost efficient pathways to distribute excess heat in the area as well as throughout the network. The solutions chosen can and already have been replicated to produce a highly optimized city-wide energy system.
WHAT HAS THE IMPACT BEEN ON THE LOCAL COMMUNITY AND STAKEHOLDERS?
The solutions chosen provide green and affordable energy to the local community, which can be reflected in housing prices and overall desirability of the area. During the duration of the project energy awareness has risen significantly and the public demands innovative solutions. In a grander scheme these solutions help Oulun Energia in implementing a totally renewable and optimized city-wide energy solution in the future.
HOW DID YOU COLLABORATE AND EXCHANGE KNOWLEDGE WITH THE OTHER PARTNERS INVOLVED IN THE TRANSITION TO A PED? HOW HAVE YOU SHARED EXPERIENCES, BEST PRACTICES AND LESSONS LEARNED?
The cooperation between other partners in the area was seamless and the solutions were chosen and implemented without any disputes. There were regular meetings between all the partners in the consortium where we shared experiences and challenges. The project for example further progressed cooperation between Oulun Energia and the municipality and zoning authorities so that we can identify and implement optimal energy solutions for different areas in the city. We also got to take part in project-wide meetings, seminars and workshops, where we got to take note and discuss the PED-solutions of Groningen and the follower cities. Unfortunately, COVID forced the project meetings to be held online, but at least I have had the pleasure to meet the partners here in Oulu and visit Groningen and Bassano del Grappa and discuss the different approaches to the project.
HOW DO YOU ENVISION THE REPLICABILITY OF THE PED IMPLEMENTATION IN OTHER PARTS OF OULU?
The technologies implemented in the project have already been replicated in the city. We for example have installed a similar heat pump system in Karjasilta, which will provide green energy and cooling to more than ten apartment buildings. We have also further cooperated with Arina and we have equipped two supermarkets with an improved heat pump concept, which can produce up to 4 GWh of heating each to our district heating network.
WHAT RECOMMENDATIONS WOULD YOU MAKE BASED ON YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A PART OF THE MAKING-CITY PROJECT?
I would encourage everyone who has the possibility to take part in a project of this size, as it provides a great perspective to the challenges we are facing EU-wide and also the solutions they can be tackled with. The project has been a great learning experience for Oulun Energia and me personally. I expect the support of EU and the partners in the project to provide great tools for Oulun Energia in its path to carbon neutrality.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE?
I would like to thank all the partners in Oulu and all over Europe for making this a really interesting and enjoyable project!