Consign coal heating to ‘dustbin of history’ to meet carbon targets

5/11/18 | News release

The 14,000 Scottish homes which use coal as their main form of heating must switch to cleaner alternatives if Scotland is to hit its ambitious climate change targets, according to industry body Scottish Renewables.

A home heated by coal emits up to five times more carbon than one heated using a modern heat pump – like Dundee’s new V&A museum – or a modern biomass boiler.

A further 186,000 homes which use oil or bottled gas should also consider switching to modern, low-carbon heating solutions, Scottish Renewables has said.

Coal is the dirtiest form of energy production and is responsible for half of the world’s energy-related climate change emissions each year, with the majority used to make electricity.

Scottish Renewables is calling for the Scottish Government to use its Energy Efficient Scotland programme, which launches in 2020, to tackle the issue of fossil fuel heating.

Fabrice Leveque, Senior Policy Manager at Scottish Renewables, said: “It's incredible that in 2018 14,000 Scottish homes still rely on coal as their main source of heating.

“Coal-powered electricity generation has already become a thing of the past in Scotland and it's time household coal heating was consigned to the dustbin of history too.

“Schemes like the Renewable Heat Incentive are available to help people switch to more sustainable alternatives and the benefits of doing so are clear: cleaner air, a healthier environment and less of the harmful emissions which cause climate change.

“The Scottish Government’s Energy Efficient Scotland programme launches in 2020 and we believe it needs to tackle the issue of coal heating, as well as the polluting oil and LPG systems which remain so common in the large areas of Scotland which do not have a mains gas supply.”

Renewable heating alternatives include electric heat pumps (which use a small amount of electricity to extract heat from the air and ground and use it to power radiators or fan heaters), solar thermal panels and biomass boilers, which can use wood from Scotland’s abundant forests.

Homes using these forms of heating emit between 1.5 and 2 tonnes of carbon per year. The comparable figure for coal is eight tonnes, up to five times as much. Even homes burning mains gas emit four tonnes of carbon per year.

The Scottish Government has a target that 35% of residential heat should come from renewable sources by 2030. Households which currently use coal, oil and LPG will need to switch to renewables by 2030 to hit that target.

The UK Government funds households to switch to low-carbon heat through the Renewable Heat Incentive, with owners eligible for payments for every unit of low-carbon heat they produce. The scheme is currently funded until April 2021 and industry is encouraging consumers to make the most of it while it is available. The Scottish Government also provides interest-free loans to help consumers switch.

Susan and Tommy Conlan have lived in a cottage in Abbey St Bathans, Berwickshire, since 2003.

Their home was heated by coal fires until the local estate, for whom Tommy works as a handyman, installed a biomass district heating system to supply heat to 20 homes in the village in 2014.

Susan, 57, said:

“Every house I have ever lived in has had coal fires, and I simply couldn't wait to get away from it.

“There are so many downsides to using coal that people just don't think about, from the dust and the smell in your home right through to having a rota to decide who goes out and fills a coal bucket every morning, and the physical effort of doing that, particularly if the weather’s bad.

“Even though we're living in a rural area, I would walk out of my house on still days and find that the coal smoke hadn't blown away. I could smell it in the air and taste it in the back of my throat.

“Our new heating system was installed at Christmas 2014, and what a Christmas present it was. Instead of coming home from work in the winter and having to light coal fires we now have a system that is clean and reliable.

“The air inside and outside our house doesn't smell of smoke anymore, which must be a positive thing for our health.

“The difference to our heating bill has also been incredible. Coal used to cost us about £15 a bag, and we could easily use three bags a week in winter - that’s more than £150 a month. Our heating and hot water bill now is £50 a month, and that extra money has made an enormous difference to us.”

The Committee on Climate Change recommends the installation of low-carbon heating systems in 280,000 existing homes in Scotland by 2030. Today there are approximately 193,000 homes off the gas grid in Scotland heated by coal, oil and LPG. There are also 282,000 homes heated with traditional electric heaters (resistive and storage heaters) that could yield emissions reductions by moving to electric heat pumps.

Information on support mechanisms for low-carbon heat is available from the Energy

Saving Trust.
Statistics on the UK's coal use are available from the UK Government.
More information on the health effects of burning coal is available from the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change.

Coal is the dirtiest form of energy production and is responsible for half of the world’s energy-related climate change emissions each year, with the majority used to make electricity.