The war started by Russia in Ukraine is accelerating the green transition, as Europe in particular wants to get rid of Russian fossil energy.
The EUR 300 billion energy investment package proposed by the European Commission includes both obligations and incentives for member states. There is a particular desire to speed up increases in renewable energy; that is, solar and wind power.
Lahti’s business manager Miikka Venäläinen sees great opportunities for Lahti in the situation.
– We have both research and practical expertise that can also be utilised in Europe. Within the framework of the Smart Energy Cluster, we are capable of productisation to solve major energy challenges. We have a lot of potential in minimising consumption and utilising waste heat.
The city is involved in the cluster to consider pilot projects that could draw on the expertise of local companies. This allows the creation of energy solutions the size of a property, a neighbourhood, or even an entire city.
Expertise in Lahti-based companies
Venäläinen lists examples of companies in Lahti with ready-made solutions.
– Ecopal provides waste or surplus heat recovery solutions, Kempower charging solutions for electric transportation. Oilon produces air-source and air-water heat pumps, and LSK has energy efficiency solutions for properties. LemKem, in turn, is a major operator in solar panels.
Individual citizens also have a role to play in energy-related efforts.
– Of course, the easiest thing is to save energy. It is not necessary to always have the heaters on at full blast, Venäläinen says.
– Waste heat is easily generated even in apartment buildings, and it can be recovered with fairly small investments. The prices of solar panels have also fallen and their output has increased sharply, so they too are often a worthwhile investment.
Lahti Energy at the forefront of the green shift
In the big picture, energy is needed for heating, electricity consumption, industrial production and transportation. The city’s energy company Lahti Energy plays a big role in this. It produces both district heating and electricity. Naturally, electricity is also transmitted to places other than Lahti, and Lahti residents can buy their electricity from other operators.
As a heat producer, Lahti Energy is a major operator with approximately 8,700 district heating customers.
The company has made large investments in carbon-neutral district heating and green electricity.
The Kymijärvi III power plant was completed in 2020. It uses biofuels – in practice, side streams of the sawmill and timber industries, as well as logging waste – the vast majority of which are generated within a radius of a hundred kilometres. The plant stopped using coal and reduced the company’s carbon dioxide emissions by 600,000 tonnes per year.
The Kymijärvi II plant uses recycled fuel made from plastic, paper, cardboard and wood. So no waste is incinerated in Kymijärvi, but recycled fuel gasified from waste. The efficiency of the process is better than in plants that incinerate waste directly.
95% of Lahti Energy’s district heating is produced with renewable or recycled fuels and 90% of its electricity is emission-free. The company also has a project with Lahti Aqua utilising waste heat from wastewater in district heating production.
Gas is needed for industry
Russia turning off its natural gas taps affects a couple of hundred residential properties in Lahti. The situation poses more of a challenge for industry.
– Residential properties can be connected to district heating or introduce heat pumps. Most companies also use gas for heating, but the situation is more difficult for companies where gas is part of their industrial process.
One remedy will be a joint Finnish-Estonian terminal vessel anchored in Inkoo, from which natural gas will be transferred to the gas network.
One of Finland’s largest biogas plants, Labio, also operates in Lahti. It produces 50 gigawatt hours of gas per year from waste. Hartwall and Lahti Energy also have a project to build a biogas plant in the Hartwall area. It will make use of the mash generated as a brewery by-product.
From oil to heat pumps
According to registers, there are a couple of thousand oil-heated buildings in Lahti, but the statistics are lagging behind and many properties have recently switched from oil to sustainable heating solutions. The transition from oil to other heating solutions is supported, for example, by subsidies applied for through the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment.
– If you switch from oil heating to a geothermal or air-water heat pump, you will receive EUR 4,000 in support. Other non-fossil forms of heating are eligible for EUR 2,500 in support.
Various heat pumps, which have rapidly become more common in recent years, are one heating solution. They are a quick way to improve energy efficiency.
– The challenge is that, with the energy transition in progress across Europe, their availability situation is at times difficult.
Electricity from the sun and the wind
Although some think that Finland is a dark and cold country, Miikka Venäläinen also believes in solar energy.
– The sun shines here as much as anywhere else, meaning we have a lot of solar energy potential. For example, in the summer in an apartment building, it makes sense to generate the energy for cooling systems with solar electricity.
A significant photovoltaic project in Lahti is Isku’s new 6,000-panel solar electricity park in Mukkula. It generates about 2,500 megawatt-hours per year.
Wind power is not a very high-potential option for electricity generation in the city area: the safety zones are large, and building individual mills is not profitable due to the construction of expensive infrastructure.
– It is smarter to build more power stations in the same area, and places in Lahti are quite scarce. However, there are potential areas for construction in the region, Venäläinen says.
Much is being done in Lahti, and Miikka Venäläinen believes that in five years’ time, local expertise and products in the energy sector will have been significantly exported and internationalised.
– Ten years from now, Lahti will be a carbon-negative operator, he says.
Venäläinen points out that electricity generation in particular is a big and complex puzzle.
– But the more options there are, the better the big picture can be optimised. And whenever green electricity is built, it quickly chips away at fossil solutions.
Lahti boosts electric transportation expertise
Lahti’s electric transportation cluster originated from the closure of the Scania bus body factory in 2019.
– We decided to react with the state and set up an electric transportation cluster. Participants include public organisations, about forty companies as well as LUT University, LAB University of Applied Sciences and Salpaus Further Education, says Business Development Manager Pekka Komu from Lahti Region Development Ladec.
The Lahti GEM cluster includes major operators such as Makron, Marakon, LemKem and Kempower, who have strong cooperation in the battery business. Ren-Gas Oy, the company behind the Lahti hydrogen plant project, is also involved in the electric transportation cluster. The shared electric cars of Lahden Autovuokraus, which is part of the cluster, have also been very well received.
The purpose of Lahti GEM is to open opportunities for Lahti-based business in Finland and around the world.
– Companies have wished for solutions to the shortage of experts in the growing sector. There is a constant need for new employees.
This call has been answered. LUT has established a professorship in electric transportation systems funded by the business community, as well as initiated a master’s programme in electric transportation systems. LAB, in turn, has started training electrical and automation engineers, and Salpaus is organising conversion training for the needs of electric transport.
Ladec is also cooperating with VTT and LUT to utilise hydrogen in heavy transport.
– It may be the motive power of the future. We want to be involved in the product development because we see strong potential in it, Komu says.