A Finland-based energy group has installed a pilot project at an industrial park in the country, touting it as a first-of-its-kind system supported by the use of artificial intelligence (AI). Exaum, founded in 2021 as an energy company committed to working for greater deployment of renewable energy, in late November announced the 1-MW project is the company’s latest step as it scales its heat generation-based power demand response technology. The pilot, underway at the Karhula Industrial Park (Figure 1), located about 80 miles east of Helsinki, is designed to help Finland’s transition to renewable energy by providing what the company calls near-instantaneous grid balancing as more wind, solar, and other intermittent power sources are added to the electricity transmission system.
1. The Karhula Industrial Park, located east of Helsinki, Finland, is the site of a pilot project utilizing artificial intelligence to help balance the power grid. Courtesy: Business Kotka-Hamina
“The shift to using more renewable sources of energy in Finland and around the world will also require a shift in the way we supply and balance power in the grid,” said Henri Yoki, founder and CEO of Exaum. “Unlike with the use of fossil fuels, when we have a completely green energy supply, the generation needs to be built to always exceed the demand. Thus, when the wind doesn’t blow that much, there still is enough generation to match the demand. This naturally means that when there is a heavy wind and the generation is at its maximum, there needs to be matching additional consumption. Essentially, in the green energy transition, consumption is great, but it needs to appear when the grid needs it. We actually need to find new ways to sustainably consume energy to maintain balance.”
Exaum’s innovation balances the production and consumption of electricity along the power grid, an issue for generators and customers as more intermittent renewable energy is deployed. The technology allows the transmission system operator to adjust and control electricity consumption in the grid, while ensuring that sudden changes in production do not cause blackouts or grid imbalance. It can direct and channel excess power production to areas where it’s needed, such as industrial heating—an area of need in Finland.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) in its 2023 overview of Finland’s generation mix wrote, “Thanks to its nuclear reactors and large domestic production of renewable energy [mainly forestry solid biomass as well as generation from hydro and wind], Finland has one of the lowest levels of reliance on fossil fuels among IEA member countries.” The agency noted that Finland “has no domestic fossil fuel production and all supplies of crude oil, natural gas, and coal are imported. The energy intensity of the economy and energy consumption per capita are both very high due to the country’s relatively large heavy industry sector and the high heating demand from its cold climate.”
Yoki noted the industry sector’s need for electricity made the Karhula park a natural fit as the site of the pilot project. “It was a mutually beneficial arrangement,” said Yoki, who told POWER the industrial complex “could get lots of inexpensive heating, and Exaum got an industrial environment where we could experiment on the details of the technical build of the assets.” Yoki said the project’s construction costs have been part of Exaum’s €1 million investment in research and development in the AI-guided, 1-MW-plus industrial class. “The project has enabled the industrial park to benefit from inexpensive heating with the cost of zero to one-third of what they typically pay for heating, since the heat is a side-product of delivering the grid-balancing capacity to the transmission system operator.”
Fingrid is the Finnish transmission system operator and the group responsible for balancing the power system, electricity production, and consumption in real time. “The energy transition is challenging the balancing of electricity production and consumption, which is handled in real-time mainly via balancing markets maintained by Fingrid,” said Tuomas Mattila, who serves as Balancing Markets Expert at Fingrid Oyj. “Wind and solar power production increases fast in Finland, increasing the need for flexibility in the power system. This is leading to the need to find additional flexible electricity production, consumption, and storage to ensure the balance of consumption and generation. We welcome new balancing service providers such as Exaum to balancing markets; new solutions and new thinking are needed to ensure cost-efficient markets for the future.”
Keeping the electricity grid in balance is important as Finland deploys more carbon-free power to decarbonize the country’s economy. Finland in 2023 deployed the first new nuclear reactor in Europe in more than 15 years; the 1.6-GW Olkiluoto 3 reactor came online in April. (Olkiluoto 3 received a 2023 POWER Top Plant award in the nuclear power category.) Nuclear power accounts for about 40% of Finland’s electricity generation, according to the IEA. Finnish officials have said they want to increase the amount of generation from both onshore and offshore wind, as well as solar, with a goal of at least 51% of electricity from renewable energy resources (including biomass) to comply with the European Union (EU) Renewable Energy Directive.
Exaum’s pilot is designed to enable energy-intensive industries to access excess power generation in real time. Yoki told POWER, “The best use of AI in the power industry is to forecast various asset operation parameters and the energy markets to enable sufficient data for software-based performance optimization algorithms to work their magic.” Yoki noted industrial heating is among the uses for excess power, and said, “The use of demand response will need to focus more on controlling what to do when there are heavy winds and too much sunshine, that is, excess generation. This needs to be managed and channeled so that the consumption meets the needs of the grid, both turning things on and off at the right time and especially turning things on. This understanding is what drove us to create Exaum and this solution.”
Jorma Hyvänen, among those with a business in the Karhula Industrial Park, said his group welcomes Exaum’s system. “We were very open to this new way of heating our warehouses and facilities. Of course, we are always looking for ways to run our business more sustainably, but this was very much an economic decision for us. District heating in the winter can be a major cost, so we are always looking for better solutions. It is great to see that doing good business is also the best choice to benefit the environment.”
Exaum officials said they want to complete the Karhula pilot and further scale the solution in Finland, while cataloging runtime experience and data reporting and studying additional automation. “We are now continuing the development and optimization of the system for larger-scale operations,” said Panu Ahola, Exaum’s chief technology officer. “Proof that AI-driven power demand response works so well in this type of application opens the opportunity for use far beyond our current focus of industrial heating.”
—Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).