A zero-emission local energy solution developed for Aalto University at block level

The goal of the renovation of the Aalto Works block in Otaniemi is to be as innovative as the research at the university. Together with Fortum, Sweco provided ACRE with a zero-emission and nearly self-sufficient heating and cooling solution that is unique in northern Europe.



Local energy solution for the Aalto Works block (Aalto University, Otaniemi, Espoo)


Concept, project and implementation planning, including structural, architectural and HPACA planning, as well as construction assignments



Aalto University Campus & Real Estate (ACRE) maintains and develops the facilities of Aalto University in Otaniemi, Espoo and Töölö, Helsinki. The plan is to make the Otaniemi Campus completely carbon-neutral and energy self-sufficient. An important step in the right direction will be taken as the ‘K-block’ is renovated into the Aalto Works block, for which a unique heating and cooling system has been designed.

“ACRE is our long-term client in district heating and a forward-thinking operator who is actively developing Otaniemi into a campus for sustainable development,” says Fortum’s Solution Sales Manager Tiina Davidsainen. “We listened to their needs and thoughts on future energy solutions carefully.”

Davidsainen states that Sweco had the expertise that Fortum required. “Sweco has an understanding of comprehensive solutions, and it’s been a pleasure to work with the best experts in the industry.”

Sweco also carries out regular condition surveys and repair plans on ACRE's building service systems. “We are familiar with the area’s properties and technical systems,” says Sweco’s Project Manager Jussi Alilehto. “We were able to help Fortum develop an energy system that works seamlessly in parallel with the building technology.”

A heat pump system allows the area to evolve

At the beginning, ACRE surveyed the opportunities for creating an individual geothermal heating system for the area. “It would have required several geothermal heating wells, which would have limited the expansion of the block,” Alilehto says. Sweco’s suggestion was to use air-water heat pumps and the waste heat recovered from the buildings.

Fortum entered this new area boldly and managed to complete the complex process agilely and rapidly. “We implemented a concept study on the idea, which was then specified through a project plan before the contract negotiations between Fortum and ACRE,” Alilehto says. The implementation plan was also developed at the same time. “The entire time, the goal was to expand the block’s energy infrastructure in the campus area.”

The designers also paid attention to the cultural heritage of the area, since the new technology will be combined with architecture designed by Alvar Aalto. “The design’s primary focus is on electrical, HPAC and automation systems, but our experts were also needed in structural and architectural design,” Alilehto says. “We are also involved in the construction contracting tasks, such as tendering and worksite coordination.”

A local, block-level energy system is new in northern Europe

An energy solution at block level is groundbreaking in many respects. The industrial-scale air-water heat pumps heat, cool and recover waste heat from 10 properties. “It’s rare to find a block with a single owner and the opportunity for circulating energy effectively,” Alilehto says.

The energy system produces 70–90 per cent of the block’s required energy. “So far, no other local energy systems that use air-water heat pump technology have been implemented anywhere in northern Europe, and probably not anywhere else in the world, either. We get to do something entirely new,” Davidsainen says, excited.

The openness of the co-operation is also new. Fortum and Aalto University will share system data, which it is hoped will benefit the entire energy sector and related research. “One of the greatest achievements of this project is finding common ground and the will to develop things together,” Alilehto emphasises.

Towards zero-emission district heating production

The block’s energy system will start operating in early 2021, after which Fortum will be in charge of operation and maintenance. Sweco’s experts will continue monitoring and optimising the technical systems. “There are many new things for everyone in this concept,” Alilehto says.

To Fortum, Aalto Works block is a step towards the Espoo Clean Heat goal. “Our sub-goal is stopping using coal by the end of 2025,” Davidsainen states. “Local energy solutions are one of the methods we have picked for moving towards clean and zero-emission production of district heating.”

Picture: Aalto University / Suomen Ilmakuva Oy