Solar panels and waste steam recovery – the Finnish Food Authority’s investments into energy efficiency pay off in savings
The premises of the Finnish Food Authority’s offices consume a lot of power, so more efficient means of producing energy have been adopted on the property.
The energy consumption of the Finnish Food Authority’s (formerly known as Evira) largest office is particularly high. Due to the nature of the building’s operations, it is difficult to draw comparisons between it and any other building.
“This building was built for Evira and is very different from many others,” says Ben Rydman, Director of In-house Services. “The building’s energy consumption is the worst of its kind because the building systems required by the laboratories use up so much electricity. For instance, the building houses the largest laboratory in Finland which investigates different matters related to food safety and the wellbeing of plants and animals,” he says.
Monitoring its energy consumption and improving its energy efficiency have long been a part of the Finnish Food Authority’s environmental management system. The Food Authority has been a part of the WWF Green Office network since 2008.
“The Green Office indicators are one way of monitoring our energy consumption. They have helped us assess if it might be possible to improve our building’s energy efficiency,” Rydman says.
All possible modern energy efficiency actions have been taken in the building in order to curb its massive yet necessary energy consumption. Two important improvements stand out: the building’s own solar plant and a system for recovering waste steam.
Electricity from the sun
The Finnish Food Authority’s solar plant was implemented in the spring of 2018. Today, there are 330 solar panels on the roof of the building, converting sunbeams into electricity. As much of the building’s large rooftop was utilised as was deemed viable; of course, it made no sense to set up panels in the sections that were left in the shade. The most productive period is between March and September.
According to Rydman, the plant can cover as much as 15 per cent of the Food Authority’s hourly energy consumption at best. This portion is significant when you consider the fact that the Food Authority’s office consumes more energy than any regular office building.
In its first year, the plant produced approximately 70 megawatt-hours of energy. The same amount of energy could be used to power up a laptop for a couple of million hours, heat an electric sauna for 500 days or drive 400,000 kilometres in an electric car.
A solar plant quickly pays off
“Implementing a solar power plant has been my personal mission from the start,” says Rydman, who managed Evira’s properties for 12 years and is now continuing his work at the Finnish Food Authority.
Why was building a plant so important for him?
“I wasn’t driven by some mad inventor type impulse to install a funny gadget on the roof. I just figured it would be a very smart move since the sunlight hits this building’s roof so nicely.”
When Evira moved into the building back in 2006, the investment was not yet economically viable.
“I kept re-calculating the viability every couple of years. We finally had a window when it had to be done, because the cost-benefit ratio has improved and keeps on improving. Solar panels are becoming more and more productive. Today, they are perfectly standard technology. All you have to do is get them up there on the rooftop,” Rydman says.
When Rydman brought up the proposal to build a power plant of their own, the board of the Finnish Food Authority did not need much convincing. They immediately understood the benefits of solar energy.
“We made the investment from a finance-motivated standpoint. I justified the financial benefits of a power plant using straightforward euro calculations. The benefits to our image didn’t even need explaining because they went without saying. The solar plant cost about one hundred thousand euros. Evira covered most of the cost, with part of it being paid for by Senate Properties. The first year of operation shows it was a worthwhile investment that will pay for itself in just 7 to 8 years.”
Waste steam recovery
Another major investment in the property’s energy efficiency was made around the time of the solar plant’s implementation. The Finnish Food Authority has its own steam power plant, its pipes flowing with steam that has a temperature of 120–130 degrees Celsius. A steam recovery system was built into the plant, making sure that the extraneous but usable heat energy generated by the plant does not go to waste.
“Ask yourself this: once you’ve heated the interior of a building, would it be smarter to let the extra heat go up in steam or to collect it for further use? We are talking about a significant amount of recycled heat energy. Waste steam recovery has saved the Finnish Food Authority approximately 90 megawatt-hours of energy over its first year,” Rydman explains.
This energy efficiency investment also went through a long consideration and planning process that took years.
“Investing into waste steam recovery will pay off in just a few years. The need for district heating is also reduced by five per cent.”
Energy efficient premises mitigate climate change
Improving the energy efficiency of properties plays a significant role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and therefore fighting climate change. The consumption of energy, heat and electricity in buildings accounts for approximately 40 per cent of all energy consumption in Finland.
“Investing in energy efficiency is smart from both a financial and environmental standpoint, as the example set by the Finnish Food Authority proves,” says Mikko Kuiri, Partnership Manager at WWF Green Office.
The Life EconomisE project estimates that the carbon dioxide emissions of Finnish buildings could be reduced by as much as 50 per cent by 2050, provided that the energy efficiency of current buildings is improved and low-carbon alternatives are implemented in new construction projects.
Text: Emmi Karhiaho