Vantaa's District Heating Network
Vantaa’s district heating network is instrumental in the city’s decarbonisation efforts. The network is operated by Vantaa Energy, an urban energy company jointly owned by the cities of Vantaa (60% ownership) and Helsinki (40% ownership). At present, the network supplies heat to approximately 70% of the buildings in Vantaa, providing warmth for 90% of the city’s inhabitants.
The district heating concept is simple but effective. It involves heating water and distributing it through an underground pipeline network, supplying heat to the buildings along its path. Vantaa’s district heating system extends over 600 kilometres, establishing it as the primary heating and sole electricity distributor for the area under Finnish law.
In accordance with Vantaa’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030, and carbon negative thereafter, its district heating system is being transformed. This has been achieved partly through the introduction of a waste-to-heat facility and partly by switching from natural gas to biofuel. Vantaa Energy is also planning on sequestering heat underground, implementing carbon capture and increasing its contribution to the circular economy.
Powering District Heat
The generation of heat for Vantaa’s district heating network is largely based on waste-to-energy plants and bioenergy. The waste-to-energy plants process and incinerate mixed waste, generating heat as a byproduct. The bioenergy facility uses mainly residual wood that is a waste product of other processes in the forestry industry. As Vantaa is situated in a Nordic country, its residents require a lot of heat during the winter, and very little during the summer. This means demand is uneven through the year, even though the quantities of waste that feed the system are consistent.
To increase efficiency, Vantaa Energy plans to construct the world’s largest heat storage facility. This facility would have the capacity to store a million cubic metres of water beneath the bedrock. The water would be heated with excess heat produced during the summer, which could then be drawn upon to produce heat more sustainably during the winter.
The waste-to-energy approach adopted in Vantaa is not only efficient but also sustainable. It reduces reliance on fossil fuels, and by incinerating waste, it reduces emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. The primary waste-to-energy facility in Vantaa processes 600,000 tonnes of mixed waste annually— approximately a quarter of Finland’s total mixed waste—serving 1.5 million people. Over 90% of this waste is converted into heat and electricity, demonstrating impressive efficiency.
Vantaa’s district heating network was responsible for 800,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually in 2010, but significant strides have been made since then. The commissioning of a waste-to-energy plant in 2014 led to a 30% reduction in emissions. Further steps were taken in 2019 with the conversion of a natural gas plant to biofuel, contributing an additional 20% reduction.
Despite these achievements, Vantaa Energy continues to push further. The company plans to implement carbon capture and use technology to prevent 100% of carbon emissions from processes such as incineration in the waste-to-heat facility. In addition to storing or repurposing captured CO2 as a feedstock, there is potential for collaboration with waste collection companies in the Helsinki area.
- Publication date
- 13 September 2023