Aalto University Campus & Real Estate – Towards a carbon neutral campus with geothermal energy

One of Finland’s largest and most efficient geothermal energy applications was born as a result of a joint project between Aalto University Campus & Real Estate (Aalto CRE) and Geological Survey of Finland (GTK).

Aalto CRE`s Challenge

Constructing an energy efficient university campus

Around 2015, Aalto CRE was developing a new smart and energy efficient university campus block in the Otaniemi area in Espoo, Finland. Aalto CRE is responsible for all construction, maintenance and development activities related to Aalto University’s real estate. Energy consumption and traffic were identified as the most significant environmental impacts of the campus area.

“Our objective of constructing an energy self-sufficient campus steered our operations from the beginning. By deciding to organise energy production ourselves, we could also set some ambitious goals in terms of sustainability and carbon neutrality that were not dependent on the decisions of other parties. This also provided Aalto University’s researchers an interesting new research topic”, says Antti Säynäjoki, the Project Manager of Aalto CRE’s Smart Otaniemi project.

Based on the geographical location of Otaniemi, the close-set buildings of the campus area and the aim for environmental sustainability, geothermal energy – or ground source heat – was selected as the primary source of energy for the new campus building.

GTK Offering Solutions

Use and durability of the energy system as the challenge

GTK had already surveyed the promising geothermal energy potential of the Otaniemi area before the Smart Otaniemi project was started. Aalto CRE needed an expert partner for the project that could help in solving the project’s considerable challenges relating to the locations of the energy wells and measuring the use of the system. “We have a very densely built-up campus, so one central question was where we could fit the energy wells and how we could maximise the output of each well without endangering the functionality of the entire field”, says Säynäjoki.

The solution laid underground. A total of 74 geothermal energy wells were constructed under the campus building and sufficiently far away from the new subway tunnel. Optic fibre cables were installed in some of the wells during construction that enable measuring the temperature of the wells with a DTS system. This allows the regular and accurate monitoring of the use of the wells. “We thought it was interesting and important to be able to monitor how much the geothermal energy field can be used and how it reacts to the use. After all, this is a valuable energy system and we want to get as much use out of it as possible, but we also want to ensure a long service life”, notes Säynäjoki.

GTK’s role particularly in the accuracy of the measurements and in the implementation of the modelling of energy use was central. The monitoring system has turned out to be valuable during the coronavirus pandemic as well, as the energy consumption of the campus building has been significantly different from the estimated level of consumption.

Going Forward

New goals and applied research

Aalto CRE has started reviewing and renewing its sustainability strategy. The Smart Otaniemi project and the cooperation with GTK produced valuable information on ground source heat as an energy system. The two parties might work together in the future as well, if suitable locations for new energy solutions are found. However, energy self-sufficiency is not the only means towards sustainability for Aalto CRE. Instead, the company wants to adopt a broader approach to it.

“Carbon neutrality is the central objective of Aalto CRE’s sustainability actions. New energy solutions are developed on campus, and they will be put to good use as well. For all our locations, the viability of using geothermal energy is always assessed. In addition, we always weigh the research potential to Aalto University in any cooperation or project.”

“If we join a research project, the objective must be to produce applicable and operatively useful solutions. Our project and cooperation with GTK resulted in just that.” Antti Säynäjoki, Project Manager of Smart Otaniemi project, Aalto University Campus & Real Estate

“A key aspect in selecting a partner is that we must be able to apply the research directly to Aalto CRE’s operations. If we join a research project, the objective must be to produce applicable and operatively useful solutions. Our project and cooperation with GTK resulted in just that”, concludes Säynäjoki.

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