Helsinki's Pilot City Activity: Systemic Heat Shift (SHS)



Helsinki’s climate commitments are encapsulated in its Carbon Neutral Helsinki Action Plan, targeting an 80% reduction in direct emissions from 1990 levels by 2030. The Systemic Heat Shift (SHS) pilot activity is set against the backdrop of the city’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality, driven by significant greenhouse gas emissions from its extensive district heating system, which serves nearly 90% of its buildings.

Helsinki has cold winters necessitating high energy consumption for heating, traditionally reliant on fossil fuels. The pilot activity leverages Helsinki’s existing infrastructure, technological capabilities, and public engagement strategies to drive sustainable practices.

Key barriers include integrating new technologies with existing systems, public acceptance and participation, and ensuring sufficient technical expertise and workforce training. Challenges also involve managing the intermittency and reliability of renewable energy sources and coordinating efforts among various stakeholders.

The Systemic Heat Shift pilot activity addresses these by developing AI-driven algorithms for demand flexibility, enhancing digital literacy, engaging the community through educational campaigns, and establishing robust governance frameworks to integrate successful methodologies city-wide, ultimately contributing to Helsinki’s carbon neutrality goals.

Description of Activities

The main focus of Systemic Heat Shift is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Helsinki’s energy production and buildings by optimising district heating systems. The pilot aims to enhance energy efficiency through technological innovation, public engagement, and robust governance frameworks.

The key actions to be implemented are:

  • Develop and implement AI algorithms to optimise heating demand, considering user-profiles and thermal inertia of buildings.
  • Integration of the developed algorithms with existing Building Automation Systems (BAS) in educational buildings and sports arenas to enhance heating efficiency.
  • Establish a comprehensive governance framework to capture and integrate project learnings into city guidelines for achieving climate neutrality.
  • Implement a framework to measure the impact of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Develop user interfaces for real-time system monitoring, fault prevention and feedback.
  • Conduct awareness campaigns and workshops to increase public awareness and participation in sustainable heating practices.


To reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy production and buildings in Helsinki by optimising district heating systems through the development and implementation of AI-driven algorithms, enhancing public awareness and participation in sustainable heating practices, and integrating these advancements into the city's climate neutrality policies and guidelines.

Are the pilot activities building upon or part of a previous and/or existing activity?

The pilot activity draws upon a wealth of previous experiences and learnings from Helsinki’s energy provider and partner Helen, and other innovative practices in the energy sector, including:

  • Helen’s Utilisation of Property Thermal Flexibility: Efforts to integrate consumer energy flexibility into the energy market, providing insights for the pilot activity’s demand response and optimisation strategies.
  • Heka Apartment Buildings Energy Efficiency: Collaboration on improving energy efficiency in residential buildings
  • MySmartLife Project: Piloting smart thermostats to enhance energy efficiency, contributing to the development of the SHS pilot smart heating controls.
  • Helen’s Heat Pump Facilities: Utilisation of alternative energy sources, like treated wastewater and solar energy
  • Peak Demand Heat Management: Use of heat centres during peak demand periods, informing the pilot activity’s strategies for managing peak heating demands.
  • Helsinki Energy Challenge: A global competition seeking innovative solutions to transition away from coal-based energy production.
  • Smart Kalasatama: An urban living lab focused on smart city development, including smart grids and home automation, which parallels the pilot’s integration of AI and IoT technologies for energy efficiency.

The pilot activity builds upon these versatile experiences to create an innovative model that can significantly contribute to Helsinki’s net zero targets.

Which emissions domains will the pilot activities address?

  • Consumption of electricity generated for buildings, facilities, and infrastructure

  • Consumption of non-electricity energy for thermal uses in buildings and facilities (e.g., heating, cooking, etc.)

Systemic transformation – levers of change the pilot activities will exploit

  • Technology/Infrastructure  

  • Governance & Policy

  • Social Innovation

  • Democracy/Participation

  • Learning & Capabilities 

  • Data & Digitalisation 

Stakeholder types that the city would like to engage in the pilot activities 

  • Academia  

  • Citizens

  • Media and Communication Partners

Transferable features of the pilot activities to a Twin City/ies 

  • AI-Driven Heating Optimisation Algorithms: Development and implementation of algorithms to optimise heating demand based on building usage profiles and thermal inertia.
  • Integration with Building Automation Systems (BAS): Techniques for integrating optimisation algorithms with existing BAS to enhance heating efficiency and energy management and the implementation of demand response management system that can be adjusted to different urban scales.
  • Framework for measuring and reporting energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Strategies for conducting awareness raising and information campaigns to educate and engage citizens in the use of sustainable heating practices.
  • User-friendly interfaces for real-time system monitoring.

These features provide a comprehensive framework that can be adapted and implemented by other cities seeking to optimise their district heating systems and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This answer is not exhaustive and simply an indicative one.

Enabling conditions that will support the successful replication of your pilot activities in the Twin City

The enabling conditions for the successful replication of Helsinki’s pilot activities in a Twin City, which even may not yet have an existing district heating system but operates a heating or cooling infrastructure connected to energy production, include:

  • Integrated Energy Systems: Infrastructure for heating or cooling distribution that can be optimised using weather and consumption pattern-based automation to reduce energy needs.
  • Transition to Renewable Energy: A strategic approach to non-fossil sources of heat and sector coupling, where the city can integrate energy production changes, such as the shift to renewables.
  • Digitalisation and Automation: Adoption of digital tools that leverage the flexibility of energy consumption, contributing to the overall efficiency and responsiveness of the energy system.

These conditions would allow for the application of Helsinki’s pilot strategies, facilitating energy optimisation and sector coupling, even in cities with different mix of heating and/or cooling systems.

This answer is not exhaustive and simply an indicative one.

What does the city want to learn from Twin City/ies?

  • The possibilities to influence the public acceptance of indoor temperature variations in cold periods, during which the carbon dioxide emissions of district heating production are at their highest. This can also correlate to how to accept hot conditions for similar energy peaks.
  • Advancing the achievement of objectives in multi-actor networks, examples of energy related multi-actor network structures, ways of working and collaborating.
  • Communicating complicated energy topics to the general public so that it’s interesting and understandable, and effective communication channels.
  • Successful examples of how people have started to care about energy saving and CO2 reductions, as the need to increase citizen participation has been identified.

This answer is not exhaustive and simply an indicative one.