Smart Otaniemi – an open playground for energy innovation

Blog post

The energy market is changing! Do you have a bold idea? Need a safe space to test your pilot? Looking for new networks? Smart Otaniemi is an innovation ecosystem pushing the boundaries on smart energy technology models and concepts.

Since the official opening in June, you could say, it’s been an open playground, attracting a lot of new kids from non-traditional neighbourhoods. Some bring new kinds of toys, and even speak new languages. Everyone is learning to get along, sharing their toys and playing nice. That’s where I come in.

Smart Otaniemi connects players in the new energy market

As a research professor with VTT, my role has been to help coordinate this energy ecosystem. That means bring together experts, organisations, technologies and pilot projects from across the sectors and finding a shared vision. Some challenges have been, for instance, in crossing traditional business borders.

With the Otaniemi Project, we are going beyond traditional energy production and distribution to work with energy service companies, building owners, transport companies, ICT services, investors, regulators and consumers. Instinctively the partners still tend toward staying siloed, preferring to stay in their own sandboxes, with their old models and goals. However, they do recognise that getting into the sandbox with newcomers, now rather than later, is the smart way forward. But it’s not easy.

Take the energy utility business as a case in point. Long-term planning and investment into network infrastructure are made in a scale of 25-year windows, yet the future energy vision wants to bring this industry together with ICT, where product lifecycles range from months to years! That’s challenging!

User-level building data for future applications

Smart Otaniemi already has a number of pilots on the go. Collection and analysis of user level building data is one example. VTT offices include  large-scale buildings within the Otaniemi test area. These buildings have become a platform for monitoring and harvesting real-time energy usage data, along with testing a range of sensor technologies. Beyond energy data, we’ve been looking at things like occupancy monitoring, temperature preferences, and people flows. At the same time, we’re developing algorithms, as well as experimenting with ways to profile energy use in buildings for future business applications or for instance emergency evacuation services.

Role of shared energy communities

Smart Otaniemi is also an experimentation playground for different kinds of communities with shared energy facilities. The simplest example of an energy community could be one apartment building with solar panels on the roof, energy storage batteries in the basement and perhaps some shared electric vehicles charging out the front. The goal might be optimisation of energy use and production for the community, or they might also want to become active on the market side.

Scaling up is also possible, for example into a whole block of buildings, including multi-use, or even the whole of Otaniemi as a business and residential energy hub.

Aggregators addressing new market mechanisms also for these kinds of communities are new kids on the block, working with combining small pieces of distributed energy into larger market entities. Their goal is eventually to address the balance between energy production and use through harnessing different resources. While these business models are potential, they are still tricky when it comes to controlling small entities and keeping it cost efficient as well as juggling the regulatory environment. 

We need the right rules

Of course every playground must have rules. Normally there is some discussion about energy regulation as a constraint to being smart. Obviously, the energy business needs regulation that is equal but also allows new innovations to emerge. That’s why we must have a platform for good dialogue with regulative bodies as well. In other words we need them right in the sandbox with us, getting to know the new games and how they should best be played.

Finland well-positioned for leadership

Compared with many other countries, Finland has optimum positioning for a leading role in the world’s new energy future. Despite a big variance among Finnish energy companies when it comes to open-mindedness to change, the market is ripe with new concepts and models and the transition is inevitable.  Playgrounds like the Otaniemi Project are supporting this transition. We’ve been talking about it for a long time but now things are really starting to move. In Otaniemi, we are all hard at play – testing limits and creating new pilots and precedents. The gates are open. Come join us!

Kari Mäki
Kari Mäki
Research Professor
Our vision beyond 2030

The efficient utilisation of renewable and carbon-neutral energy in industry, transport, and construction holds a key position in solving climate issues.