Helsinki Energy Challenge - finding the future of heating

Aerial view from above Helsinki Cathedral, with the Senate Square in the frame, looking out towards Helsinki harbour in the evening
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Helsinki wants to find long-term sustainable solutions to heat the city in the future and to act as a platform for new and innovative solutions that also other cities around the world can benefit from. For this purpose, it opened the international Helsinki Energy Challenge competition on 27 February 2020. The competition seeks solutions through which the city can be heated sustainably in the coming decades – without coal and with as little biomass as possible. The competition’s first prize is one million euros.

With the aim of becoming carbon-neutral by 2035 and with coal banned from energy production in Finland from 2029, Helsinki is strongly dedicated to the decarbonisation of cities. Several cities already have ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions. The City of Helsinki takes things one step further in declaring that it will not rely on biomass-fired heating, making the city’s energy production not just fossil free, but truly sustainable.

The scope of Helsinki’s heating system allows for a range of solutions, from large to small scale, but the ideal combination of solutions is yet to be found. The winning proposal could just as well include technological and business model innovations, as it could be a solution requiring system-level transformation. 


Solving the urban heating challenge is crucial to reach global climate goals. Cities have a keyrole to play in the transition to a low carbon economy, and Helsinki is now taking an initiative to lead the way. We invite innovators from all around the world to use our city as a testbed to develop not just fossil free, but truly sustainable, solutions. Together, we will create the future of heating to fight global warming.

Jan Vapaavuori
Helsinki Mayor
looking towards the camera, Mayor Jan Vapaavuori is sitting at a table in the Market Square, smiling whilst enjoying coffee on an overcast day.

Ten teams selected to the final phase – winner to be announced in March 2021

The application phase of the Helsinki Energy Challenge ended on 30 September 2020. The competition inspired 252 teams from 35 countries from around the world to participate. Ten European teams have been selected from hundreds of proposals to advance to the final phase of the Helsinki Energy Challenge. 

The finalist teams highlight the international and interdisciplinary nature of the participants. They have a wide variety of proposals for how Helsinki can phase out the use of coal for heat production in the most sustainable way possible by 2029. The ten proposals selected to advance consist of a diverse set of solutions that have significant potential for further development in the coming phase. Many of the suggested solutions are also scalable to the needs of other cities.

Next, the competition is advancing into the co-creation phase during which the selected teams will receive support for further development of their solution and additional information to enable them to tailor their idea to the context of Helsinki.

An international panel of judges will evaluate the final competition proposals at the beginning of 2021. The proposals will be evaluated on the basis of their climate impact, impact on natural resources, cost impact, implementation schedule and feasibility, security of supply and capacity. The winner of the competition will be announced in March 2021.

Global solutions through collaboration

The goal of the challenge is to find solutions that can be implemented in Helsinki by 2029 and that potentially could contribute to decarbonising city heating around the world.  The City of Helsinki is committed to openly sharing the solutions and know-how gathered from the challenge.

Cities such as Toronto, Amsterdam, Vancouver, and Leeds as well as organisations like the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council and C40 City Solutions Platform, are already supporting the initiative, to name a few.

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In a drastic turn to eliminate coal as the main source of district heating, the City of Helsinki has launched the Helsinki Energy Challenge – a global one million euro competition to find the future of urban heating.