From Managing Director
An exceptional, but successful year is behind us, 2021 will be a year of great inputs
I took up my duties as Helen’s CEO in early April in 2020 when the Government of Finland had just adopted the Emergency Powers Act in order to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic. The Emergency Powers Act is closely connected to energy production: as a security of supply company, it is Helen’s task to ensure sufficient energy supplies in the capital in terms of both electricity and heat, also in emergency conditions. This situation is unprecedented, the experience is quite unique.
Year 2020 will go down in history as an extraordinary year in many ways. The global coronavirus pandemic had a wide impact on the lives of us all: the borders were closed, many companies found themselves in difficulties, the normal ways of working changed.
The year was also exceptional from the energy point of view: last winter was characterised by warmer than normal weather, an improved hydrological situation, continuously growing wind power production, great fluctuations in the price of fuels and electricity, as well as fluctuations in the demand of energy due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite all that, Helen has progressed resolutely towards its strategic targets and carbon neutrality. Last year, we launched many change and investment projects in production, sales and the solution business in order to improve the customer experience and competitiveness and to reduce emissions. We made investment decisions worth a total of 350 million euros, which is a record high amount.
In terms of sales, year 2020 was strong: we won market shares and strengthened Helen’s market position in all business areas. We also launched new solutions on the market in a more quick and agile way than before. During the year, Helen has been building a strong commercial working culture. The number of our customers has reached new heights: our electricity customers totalled 550,000 and, all in all, one in three Finnish residents, or 1.8 million people, are already Helen’s customers.
A partner network that acts as a driver for growth is one of Helen’s strategic targets, and investment in growth companies is an important part of this target. The first portfolio companies of the Helen Ventures function, which was established in 2019, are the Finnish Liikennevirta and the German company EcoG, both operating in e-mobility. The investment portfolio was further increased by the Dutch company Gradyent, which develops optimisation of district heat through artificial intelligence. The strategy of Helen Ventures includes long-standing cooperation with growth companies that develop and transform the energy industry. The objective is to work in partnership in order to find, develop and create new energy solutions that develop and change the whole industry. Our aim is to continue with growth investing.
Helen’s partly owned companies have also succeeded on the market. The price of energy procurement has remained at a low level, and the companies have developed their operations in a cost-effective way. Especially companies developing wind power have expanded their production, and the decisions made during the year will increase Helen’s wind power production five-fold.
Investment in carbon neutrality continues
Our target for carbon neutrality in 2035 is a key part of our strategy, and it is in line with the objectives of the Finnish Government and the City of Helsinki. Last year, we took many major investment decisions on the construction of carbon-neutral production. Heat production investments were made in the bioenergy heating plant, heat pumps and geothermal heat projects, and electricity production investments in the expansion of wind power production.
Inputs in investments and development will grow in 2021, focusing on the same areas as in 2020. As new development areas, we assess industrial waste heat and sea water heat, which are studied actively. Customer orientation and digital systems for the customer interface are also given a greater emphasis than before. We aim to bring customer orientation at Helen to a completely new level. Everything is based on a change of culture towards more commercial operations and on activities in accordance with Helen’s values.
Price fluctuations in the electricity wholesale market are expected to gain strength in the next few years along with the increase in weather-dependent production. Weather-dependent production is balanced out by nuclear power and hydropower procured by Helen.
The Nordic water resources have lately been at a higher level than normal, which has a key impact on the low market price of Nordic electricity.
In accordance with the policies of the Finnish Government, the taxation of heating fuels will be increased by EUR 105 million, i.e. more than previously forecast. The prices of emission allowances are also rising. These will undermine the profitability of Helen’s business operations, because a significant proportion of the tax increases apply to fuels still used by Helen at the current moment. However, when implemented, the change in the tax category of heat pumps will promote carbon neutral investments, which is a precondition for many significant future investments.
Helen is responding to the energy transition through strong investment in carbon neutral production and in the solution business, and by building partnerships that support its strategy. Helen joins forces with customers and other stakeholders in order to build a carbon-neutral future. Resolving the climate challenge continues; the energy industry plays a major role as a trendsetter and significant investor.
Although the net sales for 2020 remained slightly behind the previous year, from the performance point of view, 2020 was a record year due to the good energy trade, high availability of the plants, a record increase in the number of customers and commercial expertise: this is a clear indication of the world-class expertise of Helen’s employees.
I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to our employees at the power plants, worksites and home offices for their excellent work in an exceptionally challenging environment amidst the coronavirus pandemic. My warmest thanks also go to all our clients and stakeholders for your confidence and good cooperation.
President and CEO