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BLOG: Too Hot to Handle? Cleaning up Scotland’s heating

Posted on 31/10/2018 by Fabrice Leveque

Is the challenge of weaning Scotland off fossil fuel heat just too hot a topic for policymakers to handle?

That’s the question we posed speakers at a sell-out SNP Conference fringe event earlier this month – but did the session provide any answers?

Our message to the policymakers and politicians in the room was simple: focus on the four areas that can cut emissions today:

  1. Energy efficiency

  2. District heat networks

  3. Low-carbon heat in rural areas

  4. Ensuring that new buildings use renewable heat and power as standard.

But while good progress is being made on energy efficiency, plans for renewable heat are lagging behind.

The IPCC said this month that we have 10 years left to limit climate change to 1.5C, so let’s focus on the here and now.

Low-carbon heat suppliers are already installing tried and trusted technologies that can drastically cut carbon from our homes, workplaces, public buildings and industry. We just need the drive to deploy them at scale.

According to the Committee on Climate Change around half the emissions cuts needed in the buildings sector to hit Scotland’s 2030 emissions target will come from making buildings more energy efficient.

The Scottish Government has made a good start here, with the Energy Efficient Scotland programme setting minimum energy standards for all homes and proposing to expand retrofit efficiency programmes to home owners and commercial buildings.

The other half of our emissions cuts will need to come from switching to renewable heat in homes and offices.

And it’s here that we think more should be done, not only to get on track to meeting our stretching renewable heat targets, but to build on the supply chains and expertise we already have in Scotland.

We were pleased to be joined in the SNP Conference fringe session by Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse, as well as Stuart Stevenson MSP.

Both acknowledged the progress being made as well as some of the challenges.

Representing industry beside them on the panel were Bruno Berardelli, Managing Director of Fort William-based biomass heat specialists HWEnergy; Paul Steen, an expert on district heating at engineering consultancy Ramboll and Edinburgh University Professor Dr Jan Webb, whose work on localised energy in cities and changing practices of energy use in buildings is much referenced in the many-faceted debate on the future of heat.

Each gave an overview of some of the solutions and proposals to get us where we need to be.

Scottish Renewables’ recommendations to delegates, politicians and Ministers were:

  • Accelerate the deployment of district heat networks with ambitious regulation

  • Phase out new installations of coal, oil and LPG heating from 2025

  • Make sure that new buildings only use renewable heat

In more detail:

Heat networks: The Scottish Government has proposed a package of regulations to achieve the ten-fold increase in district heat network deployment needed to hit its 2030 energy and climate targets.

Although these initial proposals were welcomed by industry, measures to boost the market – such as an obligation for large buildings to connect when a viable network/proposal is available - have been lost.

It’s hard to see how the remaining proposals, without improvement, could shift the dial in terms of building the city-wide heat networks that we need.

Rural heat: like the CCC and UK Government, the Scottish Government has flagged rural heat (buildings not connected to the gas grid) as a priority for now, given the prevalence of higher-carbon heating like coal, oil and LPG.

So far, though, it’s said little on how the Energy Efficient Scotland programme will enable decarbonisation here - a fact highlighted by the Committee on Climate Change in its recent report on Scotland’s progress.

Industry is suggesting that from 2025, all new installations of coal, oil and LPG boilers be phased out in favour of biomass and electric heat pumps, both in Scotland and across the UK.

New buildings: it’s cheapest and easiest to install renewable heat in new buildings. Despite being highly energy efficient, new homes and offices built in Scotland are still adding to our carbon emissions simply because they rely on gas for their heat.

The CCC has long argued that all new buildings should use best-in-class energy efficiency measures and renewable heat and power to work towards a future of net-zero carbon homes.

The forthcoming review of Scottish building regulations is a great opportunity to make this happen, to cut emissions and help grow Scotland’s nascent renewable heat industry.

With examples like Dundee’s new V&A museum – nominated for a Scottish Green Energy Award for its innovative use of cutting-edge green energy technology – leading the way, we’re building on strong foundations.

All that’s needed now is the determination to keep going.

Fabrice Leveque

Senior Policy Manager