Name: Juha-Pekka Weckström
Position: CEO of energy company Helen
Education: M.Sc.Eng., Technical Physics
Born: Helsinki, 1970
Leisure interests: Playing golf and tennis, hunting, and spending time at the holiday cabin.
Juha-Pekka Weckström: At Helen we’re building carbon neutrality based on the circular economy
Helen’s new CEO Juha-Pekka Weckström is steering the energy company through a major switch from coal to renewables, with a strong customer focus.
Owned by the City of Helsinki, energy company Helen has set the target of making its energy production carbon neutral by 2035. CEO Juha-Pekka Weckström regards the goal as realistic, as in recent years the company has invested more in emission-free and renewable energy than any other energy company in Finland.
“This year alone, our investment decisions promoting carbon neutrality have already totalled €400 million,” says Weckström.
Helen and the City of Helsinki are such big players that their choices are of national significance. Weckström knows that progress made in emission cuts is closely monitored.
“But at the same time, we must also make sure the price of energy remains competitive. Helen is an important revenue source for the City, so we’ll be expected to turn a good profit going forward too,” he says.
Renewables to replace coal
Phasing out coal in district heat production is at the core of Helen’s strategy.
The Hanasaari power plant will be closed down by the end of 2024 while the Salmisaari plant will end coal use a few years later.
“A broad energy mix will be required to replace coal, such as pumps to recycle surplus heat, heat storage and biomass use,” according to Weckström.
Helen already boasts a long list of emission-free energy investments. One of the most important is the heating plant under Helsinki’s Katri Vala Park that produces district heating and cooling from purified wastewater. Most likely the largest of its kind in the world, the plant has a production capacity that will soon further increase.
“We’re now installing the seventh heat pump, which will help to replace 10% of the heat production of Salmisaari’s coal-fired plant,” says Weckström.
Helen also has a similar heating plant underneath the Esplanade Park in the heart of Helsinki. The plant produces district heating and cooling out of waste heat recovered from nearby properties.
Other upcoming plants include a seawater heat pump utilizing new technology in Vuosaari, a power plant area where a new bioenergy heating plant is under construction. Helen is also looking into recovering waste heat from the Kilpilahti industrial area for use in Helsinki. Located 40 km from Helsinki, Kilpilahti’s facilities include a Neste oil refinery.
Investing in solar and wind power
Helen has for long been sourcing hydro and wind power from elsewhere in Finland via its associated companies. Wind power output will increase fivefold by 2022 when the Lakiakangas 3 wind farm is completed in Ostrobothnia near Kristinestad.
Solar electricity is produced by Helen at its Kivikko and Suvilahti plants in Helsinki. Solar accounts for a small share of Helen’s total output, but the company is a major player in Finland in solar electricity, and plans to install more solar capacity in the coming years.
Weckström says that Helen’s approaches represent the circular economy at its best. The company aims to maximize the efficiency of all resource use and energy recycling.
We’re building carbon neutrality based on the circular economy. A good example of circularity is the recovery of data centre waste heat for district heating. Device cooling generates a lot of heat that used to be frittered away.
- Juha-Pekka Weckström, CEO, Helen
Helen’s City Refinery is working with Lassila & Tikanoja and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland with the aim of processing difficult-to-recycle materials into renewable raw materials in a zero-emission process.
Gasum is an important partner for Helen
Helen’s Vuosaari gas turbine plant is one of the biggest natural gas users in Finland, with almost half of the gas used for district heating and the other half for electricity production at the combined cycle plant.
Weckström foresees that gas will retain its major role in heat and power production for now. The quickest short-term way to cut emissions is increasing the use of current natural gas-powered plants to replace the use of coal.
CO2 emissions from natural gas combustion are almost 40% lower than those from coal. Natural gas is also a good fuel with respect to local emissions as its use creates zero particulate emissions and hardly any sulphur or nitrogen emissions.
Weckström points out that Helen actively develops carbon-neutral production forms and solutions for energy optimization. The company’s energy mix to replace coal includes waste and surplus heat, energy storage, ground-source heat, and distributed solutions as well as biomass.
This year the competitiveness of natural gas has been improved primarily by oversupply on European gas markets.
“The gas market opening up is a positive thing, but we’re keeping an eye on how natural gas taxation develops,” says Weckström.
Telecoms lessons come in handy
Helen’s CEO since April, Weckström has a long track record of working in leading telecoms roles including as CEO of Digita and TeliaSonera Finland. He believes his previous experience comes in handy in energy sector development.
Telecoms went through a huge transformation 20 years ago when a switch was made from landlines to mobile phones and internet services. At the same time, traditional data connection providers turned into providers of customer-oriented services.
“Energy companies have traditionally focused on producing energy at power plants and delivering it to customers. Going forward, the approach has to be reversed and based on the customer perspective,” says Weckström.
He believes that data utilization, digital solutions, and customer needs are key in the energy sector. Consumers are increasingly interested in monitoring their energy consumption and knowing the environmental impact of their choices.
“Our services cover almost 1.7 million people in Finland. Our customers have a very broad range of needs as they include large companies using a lot of energy, housing companies connected to district heating, and homes consuming electricity,” says Weckström.