Could the future of Scotland’s heat lie in its past?

Our low carbon specialist, Conall McGinley reflects on the global response to climate change and the challenges and opportunities ahead for Scotland in the low carbon heat sector.

Globally, the impacts of climate change have become increasingly visible whilst young people continue to raise awareness of the dangers of inaction. This last year has been a period of raised awareness of the pressing need to deliver on climate change. We've witnessed a renewed desire from governments to intensify their efforts to decarbonise and the Scottish Government is no different.

Scotland’s target is to definitively end its contribution to climate change within a generation. The Scottish Government has announced a climate emergency and adopted an ambitious target to reduce emissions by 75% by 2030 – the toughest statutory target of any country in the world for this date.

Progress to date in decarbonising electricity has been remarkable: Scotland is on track for the equivalent of 100% of electricity demand to be met by renewable sources this year. Conversely, low carbon heat generation (as a percentage of gross consumption) is currently the lowest of any country in Europe. However, this small country of 5.4 million people is determined to continue its success into the heat sector.

A challenging task

In order to meet the targets, it's recognised that we need to rapidly increase roll-out. Legislation and regulation will be a key part of the solution. One example is the Scottish Government’s Heat Networks Bill, which will be brought forward in 2020 to accelerate the development of district heating. 

However, legislation is not the only solution. The impact of introducing low carbon heat solutions will mean that our infrastructure needs will have to be addressed. The introduction of one electrical vehicle charging point and one heat pump to one domestic building could double the amount of electricity required. As a result, careful planning will be central to successful decarbonisation.  

A supportive financial environment

The Scottish Government has committed significant funding to the decarbonisation of heat. The planned new Scottish National Investment Bank, with its ability to provide investment funding, points to a supportive environment for new solutions. This support builds on successful support programmes such as the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme and the Energy Investment Fund.

Support to develop low carbon heat will be provided by a range of organisations, including:

  • Scottish Enterprise
  • Scottish Development International
  • Highlands & Islands Enterprise
  • Zero Waste Scotland
  • Local Energy Scotland
  • Energy Savings Trust
  • Community Energy Scotland

What will the future look like?

The future of Scotland's heat could lie in harnessing natural assets to create renewable heat whilst leveraging the legacy assets of Scotland’s industrial past.

Scotland has many natural assets: from wind, waves and tides to geology, oil reserves and coalfields. Minewater geothermal, which build on Scotland’s coalmining history, could be part of our future.

Half a century of North Sea oil and gas production has created internationally-renowned engineering expertise and a heritage of innovation. The engineering assets developed from the oil and gas industry could be the key to building the capability required for low carbon energy.

Future solutions for low carbon heat could include technologies such as: heat pumps, electric heating, hydrogen, industrial waste heat, geothermal, heat from waste and biomethane.

Driving down the demand for heat through increased energy efficiency will be central to the achievement of Scotland’s low carbon heat targets.

Between 2009-2021, the Scottish Government’s support to improve energy efficiency and tackle fuel poverty will exceed £1 billion. A national ambition for all homes to be at least EPC Band C by 2040 (where technically feasible and cost-effective) will create a diverse range of opportunities for the construction sector.

What’s happening just now?

Innovative low carbon heat companies in Scotland are creating world-class innovations and driving forward research and development. Workers are already fabricating and manufacturing some of the components that will power our energy future and our supply chains are growing.

A series of innovative low carbon heat projects have been developed, including EastHeat: a fuel poverty reduction project which installed a combination of heat storage batteries and solar panels in 625 housing association properties across Edinburgh and the Lothians, mitigating fuel poverty whilst reducing carbon emissions.

Explore Scotland's opportunities 

Watch our webinar series

Click on the following links to our GoToStage webinar channel where you can register to watch for free:

Climate change solutions - Geothermal energy opportunities in Scotland

Opportunities in low carbon heat

Zero-carbon heating - Scotland's opportunity for shared ground source heat pumps

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