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Scotland gets serious about low carbon heat

Stephanie Clark

The Scottish Government published its Heat Policy State in mid June, setting out its approach towards decarbonising the heat system along with a framework for investment in a low carbon heat sector. Here, Stephanie Clark from Scottish Renewables suggests that to succeed, Scotland needs to learn significant lessons from the Danes.

Warm homes, comfortable workplaces, plentiful hot water – as a society, we’re addicted to their convenience. Put simply, we can’t live without heat. Our relationship with the way this life-sustaining energy source is generated, transported and used, however, needs some work.

More than half of the energy consumed in Scotland is in the form of heat, but the vast majority of our progress towards the country’s ambitious 2020 climate change targets has so far been won in the production of green electricity.

Most of our homes, businesses and public buildings are warmed by conventional gas boilers, and that’s a situation which has to change if we are to increase our energy security, protect ourselves from fluctuating energy prices and meet those 2020 targets.

The Scottish Government’s target that 11% of our heat should be generated from renewable sources by 2020 is still achievable, but only just – the most up-to-date statistics show that figure is currently just 3%.

Scottish Government’s Heat Policy Statement (June 11) acknowledged for the first time that we need district heating, biomass, geothermal energy, solar thermal systems and heat pumps to become commonplace in homes, businesses and on industrial sites across Scotland.

It is becoming clear that a shift in thinking is underway, and that both industry and Government are starting to focus on the huge challenges in this area, as well as on the many different technologies which will be required to start the shift to cleaner energy sources.

The Government's analysis suggests that around £100 billion will be spent replacing and installing heating and energy efficiency measures from now to 2050 – a significant sum, and a prize worth grasping for those supply-chain, installer and developer businesses who have not yet considered renewable heat as a viable income stream.

Best practice

The challenge for government, both in Scotland and at Westminster, is to put in place incentives and polices to ensure that this money is invested in sustainable technologies, and as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Experience in other parts of the UK and in Europe has found that a strong planning framework, flexible regulation and strong public support play a key role in ensuring a significant uptake of renewable and low carbon heat technologies – a model we would be wise to mirror in Scotland.

In Denmark, national heat planning was introduced in 1979, as the country reeled from price fluctuations caused by the decade’s oil crisis. At the time, more than 90% of the country’s energy supply came from imported oil.

Today, Denmark boasts one of the highest penetrations of renewable heat in Europe. Two-thirds of all homes are connected to district heating networks, which use heat from a central source – most often a combined heat and power plant – to provide warmth for dozens, hundreds or thousands of homes, vastly reducing carbon emissions and fuel bills.

Denmark has roughly the same population as Scotland. In Copenhagen, the homes of 500,000 people are linked to 100 miles of district heat pipes – part of a state-regulated heat industry which employs 10,700 people and first began development in the 1920s. In Scotland, tentative moves are being made to link up homes and businesses to similar schemes, but we have some way to go if we are to match Denmark’s remarkable achievement of having 64% of homes connected to district heating.

The Danes, though, are now playing a role in bringing renewable heat to Scotland. Last November (2014) Rasmus Helveg Petersen, Denmark’s Minister for Climate, Energy and Building, signed an energy cooperation agreement with Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, as part of a trip which saw planners from Scottish local authorities travel to the European country to study state and local aspects of strategic energy planning and the role of district heating in the Danish energy system.

Now, with £6 million of funding from the Scottish Government’s Local Energy Challenge Fund, the village of Caol, near Fort William, could soon become Scotland’s district heat capital, with a large heat pump drawing water from chilly Loch Eil and using it to heat 500 local homes.

Additionally, the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme, which was launched in March 2015 with a budget of £76 million over the first three years, will provide tailored project development support for established and start-up infrastructure projects in Scotland, including heat, across the private, public and community sectors.

Plenty going on, then, but still a long way to go to realise our heat ambitions. And with 900,000 Scottish homes in fuel poverty, the sooner we act to reduce carbon emissions from our heating sector and bring down bills, the better.


Stephanie Clark is Policy Manager of Scottish Renewables


See Scottish Renewables



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