Electronics Waste Set To Warm Finnish City In A Thermal Energy Project

New Atlas

Underground caverns in Finland will soon host a groundbreaking energy storage facility designed to capture and store heat during the summer months, ready to release it during the harsh winter season. Set to be constructed near Helsinki, this facility will stand as the world’s largest of its kind, boasting enough thermal energy to heat a medium-sized city throughout winter.

The concept of seasonal energy storage is crucial in regions like Finland, where extreme fluctuations in temperature demand substantial heating in winter. This technology allows surplus heat generated in summer to be harnessed and stored for later use, significantly reducing reliance on fossil fuels and minimizing the carbon footprint associated with heating.

Utilizing thermal exchange heating systems, such as those implemented underground, or domestic heat pumps, is recognized as one of the most effective methods for mitigating the environmental impact of heating and cooling. These systems work by leveraging natural processes or recycling energy to regulate the temperature of water, which is then used to distribute either warmth or coolness within buildings.

In Vantaa, Finland’s fourth-largest city neighboring Helsinki, the ambitious Varanto project is set to revolutionize seasonal energy storage. It plans to capture waste heat from data centers, cooling processes, and waste-to-energy facilities and store it in underground caverns. This stored heat will then be circulated through a district heating network to provide warmth to buildings as needed.

In Nordic countries like Finland, where there’s a significant variation in heat consumption between seasons, this technology is invaluable. Summer heat consumption is a mere fraction of what’s needed during the winter months. Varanto’s underground caverns, equivalent in size to two Madison Square Gardens, will hold over a million cubic meters of water. This water, heated by waste heat sources, will reach temperatures of up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit without boiling or evaporating, thanks to the immense pressure within the caverns.

“The world is undergoing a huge energy transition. Wind and solar power have become vital technologies in the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy,” Vantaa Energy CEO, Jukka Toivonen, said.

“The biggest challenge of the energy transition so far has been the inability to store these intermittent forms of energy for later use. Unfortunately, small-scale storage solutions, such as batteries or accumulators, are not sufficient; large, industrial-scale storage solutions are needed. Varanto is an excellent example of this, and we are happy to set an example for the rest of the world.”

The fully charged seasonal thermal energy storage has a total thermal capacity of 90 gigawatt-hours. This amount of energy could heat a medium-sized Finnish city for an entire year. To put it into perspective, this capacity is equivalent to the energy stored in 1.3 million electric car batteries when broken down into smaller units.

“Two 60-MW electric boilers will be built in conjunction with Varanto,” Toivonen added. “These boilers will be used to produce heat from renewable electricity when electricity is abundant and cheap. Our heat-producing system will work like a hybrid car: alternating between electricity and other forms of production, depending on what is most advantageous and efficient at the time.”

The estimated cost of the project is around $217 million (€200 million), with Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment already granting €19 million in investment. Construction of the storage facility’s entrance is slated to commence in the summer of 2024, and it could be operational by as early as 2028.

In Finland, district heating reigns supreme as the primary method of heating buildings and homes. This system involves the transmission of thermal energy from production plants to customers through a closed, two-pipe system using hot water. The hot water travels through pipelines to buildings, where heat exchangers transfer the heat to the building’s heating system. The cooled water then returns to the production plant to be reheated, ensuring a continuous cycle of energy flow.

In Vantaa alone, there are over 600 kilometers of underground district heating networks, with approximately 90% of residents relying on district heating to warm their homes. This extensive network plays a pivotal role in providing efficient and sustainable heating solutions to the city’s residents.

As of 2023, Finland produced a total of 37.3 terawatt-hours of district heat, with 53% generated from renewable sources and 14% from waste heat. This highlights a significant commitment to utilizing sustainable energy sources for heating, aligning with Finland’s goals of reducing carbon emissions and promoting environmental responsibility.


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