Getting ready for the long game - Tommi Kantola

22.08.2022

Tommi Kantola is now Oulun Energia’s official futurologist. As development director, he considers how the company will produce heat and power for customers in 10 and 20 years from now.

The energy sector is developing so fast that the electricity markets and district heat systems may well look very different in 20 years than what they do today. But how? It’s Oulun Energia’s new development director Tommi Kantola’s job to answer this question from Oulun Energia’s perspective.

Oulun Energia hasn’t earlier had a development director but Kantola says that this move has now been made so that the company can keep up to speed with and preferably in the front line of development. So having earlier worked on Oulun Energia’s production side and most recently as production direction, he has started on creating his new job description since the start of this year.

“Now it’s a tough lesson to take the next step wearing his new thinking cap.”

Developing new systems, thinking about the future and shaping business models is in any case something Kantola likes doing. He describes his job as getting ready for the long game.

“I like visualising, what will technology be like five years from now, for example, about what the market will be like and how we can use different technologies to reach Oulun Energia’s goals.”

Many smaller solutions

Tommi Kantola begins to open up the development path to the 2030s and 2040s. We can already see a growing need for electricity and an expansion of the circular economy. Companies are expected to be responsible and people want them to take biodiversity into account as well as climate change.

Oulun Energia aims to be carbon neutral by 2035, but is working hard to reach this goal earlier.

Hydrogen, biogas, energy storage in batteries and mini-nuclear power plants are on the agenda when talking about the transformation of energy production and the energy of the future. Kantola, too, sees these as part of the solution. It is unlikely that any single magic means will be developed, but that heat and power production will be made up of many smaller elements. Forms of energy production will increasingly overlap and adapt to market conditions.

Kantola says that electricity will be part of heat production either in the form of heat pumps or as direct electric heating. Alongside electricity, biogases, synthetic gases produced with the help of carbon capture, and bio oils will be the answer to consumption peaks and replace oil.

Solutions that improve demand flexibility will become more common on the heating consumer side. Smart properties will detect situations where consumption peaks are imminent. Properties can regulate their heating themselves and reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Kantola thinks that mini-nuclear power plants are part of the energy production spectrum: cities can have their own mini-nuclear power plants that produce electricity, district heat or both.

Electricity is increasingly being produced by wind turbines and solar power, and there has already been heavy investment in wind power.

Oulun Energia’s development director Tommi Kantola

“Wind power will account for a growing share of the energy portfolio. The potential of solar power is being explored as it is seen as evolving rapidly in the same way as wind power technology has developed.

Better recovery of waste energy

One development path is more efficient use of waste energy from energy, housing and shops.

“We have already been buying waste heat from industry for the district heat network for years now, but next we will go more into properties and industry. Waste heat will also be increasingly recovered from lower temperatures.”

One possibility is geothermal heat: Oulun Energia is already involved in a joint project involving a number of energy companies in Tampere to investigate the functionality of a seven-kilometre deep drilled well as a source of district heat.

Energy production based on combustion still takes place but is moving towards biofuels, and the carbon dioxide from combustion is being recovered and used elsewhere.

Kantola also thinks that energy storage in batteries will become widespread. “We also have district heat batteries, larger rock cavern storage and a smaller above-ground heat battery and I believe that these technologies will develop.”

Results come from team play

Tommi Kantola says that he’s a team player who prefers to work in a group. At work, his closest sparring partners are Oulun Energia’s other experts. Businesses and the research field are already Oulun Energia partners.

Kantola says that ideas come from talking with others, what he reads and what he hears in seminars. Things are kicked around and first experimented among colleagues and if an idea seems to work, a slightly larger crowd start to develop it.

“You need to weigh up what is worth investing in and when, so that it makes financial sense.”

Future areas for development include the demand flexibility of hybrid energy and its application in practice.

“How different energy transmission forms can be interconnected and how demand flexibility can be used to enable low-carbon production in another form of energy.”

Employee writing his thesis stayed on

Tommi Kantola comes from Oulu and has worked for Oulun Energia since 2009. He came as an energy engineering student to write his masters’ thesis for company, liked it and stayed.

”I’ve worked in all sorts of positions, as a design engineer, energy engineer, maintenance manager, operating manager and production director.”

The father of two daughters, he spends much of his free time taking his children to their various hobbies, but himself wants to be active in sports. His choices show a preference for team games.”

“I like team sports and the team spirit that goes with them.”

Tommi Kantola begins to open up Oulun Energia’s development path to the 2030s and 2040s.

This article was originally published in Oulun Energia’s customer magazine 1/2022. Story: Pirkko Koivu.