Helen Ltd. – Driven by the Customer

We learn how Helen Ltd is heading towards a carbon-neutral future by meeting the needs of their customers today.

Helen is an energy company that operates all over in Finland, the company has also invested in European energy-related start-ups.

It’s the second-largest energy company in the country with 1 billion euros of revenue and 1,000 people working for it alongside a network of partners.

“We have both our own production and production through associated companies across the board,” says Juha-Pekka Weckström, Helen Ltd.’s CEO. “That includes versatile heating production with heat pumps, biomass, wind power, hydro and nuclear power, and today also still partly with fossil fuels. Helen is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2035. We are a fully-fledged energy company with almost 550,000 electricity customers and 1.7 million Finns use our services in their daily lives.”

Helen Ltd was founded in 1909, and so brings a wealth of experience to their work. The company has been doing that work in Finland’s capital, a hot spot, and produces district heating, districting cooling and electricity alongside all other solutions demanded by households and corporates in the country. In all that time, what separates Helen Ltd from other energy companies, even in the renewables sector, is how the company is driven by its customers.

“Helen was founded by the City of Helsinki to ensure warmth and light – district heating and electricity – for the citizens,” comments former CEO Pekka Manninen, who retired last Spring. “Now Helen, together with the entire energy sector, is transforming. The new carbon neutral and customer-centric strategy provides the backbone to succeed in the future.”

“We strive to be the most customer-driven company and a forerunner in the energy business,” says Weckström. “We’re not just serving customers with faster utilities but add-on services and new services, including eMobility services, solar power, dedicated wind power services, all kinds of cooling and heating storage, on top of the traditional services.”

Built on Partnerships

The keystone of Helen Ltd.’s approach is that the company itself doesn’t function as an island but as part of an interconnected network of businesses and people working together. A prominent show of partnering is Helen Ventures, Helen’s Corporate Venture which will invest in the coming years 50 million euros in the most innovative and transformative European start-ups in the energy sector.

“Partnerships are obviously very important. I would stress there are two kinds of partnership which are of importance,” Weckström says. “One is the power plant suppliers. We have trusted brands and good technology providers and businesses who can help us in making the carbon-neutral objective a reality.”

This means working with partners such as Sumitomo SHI FW, a provider of energy and environmental technologies and services focusing on high efficiency and flexible generation of energy, and Gradyent, a Dutch start-up and Helen Venture’s recent investment, that develops heat production with artificial intelligence.

These partnerships work up and down the supply chain, however, and the customer is at the centre of Helen’s vision.

“The other category is the customers,” Weckström says. “Often customers demand renewable energy and carbon neutrality. We deliver. We’re not just building services and pushing them to market. There is a customer pull and we fulfil their needs. So both suppliers and customers are important.”

While all businesses feel pressure to become carbon neutral from government strategies and, of course, the very real global consequences of climate change, Helen has found inspiration in the passion its customers and suppliers have for building sustainable energy solutions.

Feeding Time at the Zoo

Among the customers who have driven Helen to innovate and create new clean energy solutions is the Korkeasaari Zoo. It was a job that brought some unique challenges with it, but as Weckström says, “Every customer is different!”

“We strive to be customer-driven and nowadays a lot of customers have very strict demands when it comes to carbon-neutral energy supply,” Weckström explains.

“So a customer like the Korkeasaari Zoo wants to achieve their objectives in carbon neutrality and we’ve built a solution according to their wishes. It’s based on solar power and renewable district heating. Heating is really important obviously. In Finland, there is a bigger need for heat than in Central or Southern Europe and we have heating solutions based on renewables.”

This zoo is just one example of the kind of customer-driven project Helen excels at.

“We have many carbon-neutral energy production projects. We are building the largest heat pump in the world. We have seven heat pumps in the region producing clean energy. A new bioenergy heating plant and other renewable power sources are replacing a major coal power plant in Helsinki.,” says Weckström. “And then we have cases like the Korkeasaari Zoo. We’ve also supplied multiple large solar power installations.

At the same time, Helen Ltd invests in clean running power plants that provide sustainable energy for all their customers.

“We have to take care of both: the production and the customer. Customer-centricity coupled with carbon-neutral production are the cornerstones of our strategy.,” Weckström explains.

Weathering the Pandemic

Of course, next to climate change, the other global crisis affecting businesses around the world is the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has, of course, affected our business, but not massively,” Weckström says. “During the second quarter, electricity consumption in the Helsinki region went down by 10-15%. A lot of the businesses were temporarily closed down. We can see that when services are closed for even a short time, consumption drops in service-orientated cities like Helsinki.”

It’s clear, speaking with Weckström that he is proud of how Helen has performed during this crisis.

“A lot of people were working remotely and all our plants were operating without problems. So operationally the first wave of the pandemic was handled extremely well in the company,” he says. “The engineering spirit and pride kept the company running.”

Whether it’s driven by the customers, or by Helen Ltd itself, the company’s direction remains the same.

“I think the key thing for the public is that we have ambitious carbon neutral targets and aim to be fully carbon neutral by 2035,” Weckström explains. “All our actions are geared towards that target. Customer-centricity and demand are central.”

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