Just Warmth

Overview —

Common Weal lays out a comprehensive framework for the decarbonisation of Scotland’s heating sector in a way that eliminates fuel poverty in this country.


Dr Keith Baker

Dr Ron Mould

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Scotland heats the majority of its homes and buildings in inefficient and deleterious efforts to become a net zero-carbon nation. Much more effective than individual boilers would be a system of District Heating Systems (DHS). These DHS networks could be supplied with a variety of sources such as biomass, solar thermal or industrial waste heat.

With almost all heat currently being generated by fossil fuels, it is vital that this sector rapidly decarbonises and DHS will play a significant role in this. The roll-out of DHS networks is not significantly limited by the lack of devolved powers and work can be done to begin this immediately (though the full roll-out of bodies such as a National Energy Company would require additional powers).


― The current system under which District Heating Systems (DHS) projects are commissioned, designed and implemented is a critical and substantial barrier to the successful development and deployment of heat networks in Scotland. There is now an urgent need for the Scottish Government to re-think its approach to strategic planning for DHS. This is entirely within the scope of currently devolved powers, and the development of publicly-owned National Energy Company (NEC) presents a number of significant opportunities for addressing these policy failures (see Common Weal paper Powering Our Ambitions for more information). Following on from our previous work, this new paper discusses how the NEC should operate in partnership with a Scottish Energy Development Agency (SEDA) and a public National Energy Service (NES) to maximise the benefits of investment in new DHS projects. Our full proposals for the NES will be outlined in our next policy paper.

― The Scottish Government has, to date, failed to learn from the evidence from other countries which have developed successful and sustainable DHS and heat networks, particularly Denmark. What evidence from successful projects elsewhere shows is that using multi-technology approaches, particularly those combining large scale solar thermal with sustainable biomass and inter-seasonal heat storage and heat recovery technologies, must become a central theme in the future development of DHS in Scotland. However, sadly, such thinking currently appears to be completely beyond the Scottish Government’s thinking.

― The Scottish Government has, to date, critically failed to understand and address the impact of policy silos on efforts to develop DHS, heat networks, and other energy infrastructure that will be essential for securing a green energy future for our country. DHS is a prime example of this as the legislation and support needed to deliver successful projects cuts across a particularly wide range of policy remits.

― Strategic planning for the future development of DHS and heat networks in Scotland must be directed nationally and delivered locally, but the Scottish Government must ensure all devolved responsibilities, particularly those placed on local authorities, are suitably funded and resourced. The selection of priority projects must be carried out at a national level and must be based on robust and holistic analyses, using real data to identify locations where the potential to deliver both direct and indirect benefits to local communities is greatest. These analyses should also identify locations where the existence or development of renewable and low carbon energy sources (and fuel supply chains) can support the regeneration of deprived areas whilst reducing Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions.

― The adoption of multi-technology approaches to the development and deployment of heat networks should be central to delivering a Scottish DHS revolution. Recovering waste heat and utilising local site-specific renewable resources should be seen as key priorities for strategic planning for new schemes, and energy from waste (EfW) systems will require consideration relative to other options for providing heat and managing waste. However, the combined solar thermal, sustainable biomass and inter-seasonal heat storage model now gaining traction across Europe provides a highly replicable, flexible and cost-effective technological option.

― The development of local, sustainable biomass supply chains to provide fuel for new DHS schemes itself presents significant opportunities to leverage direct and co-benefits for job creation, recreation, tourism, enhancing biodiversity, tackling climate change, community empowerment and fuel poverty, and regenerating deprived rural and remote areas of Scotland. This is an opportunity Scotland cannot afford to miss.

― Finally, this policy paper proposes a set of comprehensive and holistic assessment criteria to ensure that the benefits of new projects best meet the needs of national and local policy agendas, and of local communities. These assessment criteria would be implemented using essentially the same approach to that adopted for strategic environmental assessment, and the data and information collated as part of this process could be visualised using geographical information systems (GIS) to aid the interpretation of the evidence by non-specialists. All the relevant data needs and sources are available to the Scottish Government, and the collation and analysis of this and related data would be a key role of the SEDA. As ever, we welcome further comment and engagement from all those seeking to secure an environmentally, economically, and socially equitable energy future for Scotland.

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