In early 2015, two power generation units produced by Kempele-based Volter were loaded onto a ship at a port in Finland. From there, the units embarked on an eight-week voyage to Sydney, Australia, where a building situated in the heart of the metropolis now produces all of its electricity and heat itself. Thanks to these units, the building operates independently from the city’s power grid.
“Our power generators produce energy from wood chips. In fact, in Sydney the units use recycled wood chips,” explains Volter’s managing director, Jarno Haapakoski.
Renewable energy sources are gradually replacing fossil fuels. Small wind turbines, solar panels, and geothermal heat pumps are rapidly becoming established methods of energy production. Volter’s products utilise wood as an energy source. Wood chips are superheated to produce wood gas, which serves as fuel for the generator.
Credibility through good design
So much can be achieved with good design that it’s clearly worth the effort.
Volter’s generator units were originally designed to be used outdoors and resembled a shipping container in appearance. Then the company made a far-reaching decision. The generator unit had to be sized appropriately to fit indoors, and it had to look good.
“The technology must be sophisticated, of course, but the product’s appearance also plays a major role these days. Polished design gives the product additional credibility,” explains Haapakoski.
According to him, design is an integral part of product development in larger companies nowadays. However, small businesses often still regard design as a luxury they can ill afford. They may also have concerns about the feasibility of the designer’s vision. Haapakoski considers these limitations purely psychological:
“So much can be achieved with good design that it’s clearly worth the effort.”
The visual side of the Volter units is the handiwork of an independent industrial designer. Volter imported the design plan to the Inventor Professional software, which was then used to generate a 3D model of the unit that evolves in line with all changes indicated. According to Haapakoski, the designer’s model could be utilised in the software seamlessly.
The company applies Autodesk Vault in its document management, while AutoCAD Mechanical is used to display the unit models overlaid on clients’ drawings. The compatible software suite was supplied to Volter by MekSystems.
From cottage industry to global business
Exports account for 90% of Volter’s current sales, with products exported to Britain, the Baltic countries, and Japan. The company’s generators produce energy for farms, industrial halls, schools, and entire residential districts.
The initial spark for self-sufficient and eco-friendly energy production came from one man’s personal needs. In 1998, Juha Sipilä, Volter’s founder and now Finland’s prime minister, requested an offer for electricity supply to his holiday home. He was given a price estimate of nearly half a million Finnish marks, translating to 95,000 euros. The high cost of connection to the national electricity grid prompted him to look into making his holiday home self-sufficient in terms of energy.
Initially, he opted for energy produced by wind power and a diesel-fuelled generator. It was not long before diesel fuel was replaced with wood chips. Wood is not in short supply in Finland, with Finnish forests producing nearly 100 million cubic metres of it every year, almost half of which goes unharvested.
After proving its worth at Sipilä’s holiday home, the idea was put into practice in Kempele, the home municipality of both Sipilä and Volter. In 2009, Finland’s first energy-self-sufficient residential area was created, in Kempele, with wind power and wood chips used to generate its energy. The area’s small power plant produces heat and electricity for 10 houses.
“Not being part of the national power grid doesn’t affect the residents’ day-to-day life in any way. They don’t have to compromise on any modern conveniences, and the unconventional form of energy production doesn’t cause them any additional work,” explains Haapakoski.
Volter’s office and product development premises are local to this area, which serves as an R&D platform for the company, enabling it to test new technology in a real-world setting. The Finnish Association of Civil Engineers (RIL) voted this ‘eco-village’ the most significant Finnish construction project of 2010.
Volter engages actively in constant product development. And with the number of components increasing, its 3D models are becoming more complex and sophisticated. This imposes ever higher requirements for the software and professional skills of the designers. But the stakes too are high: the future of our planet. The goal is to have entire cities that produce all the energy they need themselves – in an eco-friendly manner.