Scotland’s public sector fails to exploit renewable heat as country struggles to meet targets

Wick District Heating scheme boiler room Photograph IGNIS BIOMASS
Wick District Heating scheme boiler room                        Photograph IGNIS BIOMASS

Only 1% of buildings owned by Scots councils are heated by renewable energy – progress labelled “underwhelming” by an industry body as Scotland looks set to miss a key 2020 target for the sector.

New research shows local authorities have invested almost £8 million making sure 225 schools, 17 leisure centres, 17 care homes and 63 other public buildings across Scotland are heated by renewable energy – but 24,806 are not, industry body Scottish Renewables has revealed.

The 21 Scottish local authorities which responded to a Freedom of Information disclosure requirement have invested almost £8 million in renewable heat technology – but have already earned almost £770,000 from the UK Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive support scheme.

An SR spokesman said: “More than half of the energy we use in Scotland is in the form of heat, but we are failing to make the most of our renewable technologies, as these underwhelming figures show. 

“While Scotland has made great progress in the development of renewable electricity, the heat sector continues to lag behind. As of 2014, the proportion of heat demand met by renewable sources stood at an estimated 3.8%, against a 2020 target of 11%. This leaves us well below the European average.

“Our key ask from the heat vision document has to be for the continuation of the Renewable Heat Incentive – the mechanism which supports the uptake of heat pumps, biomass boilers and solar thermal, for example. The document also identifies other challenges which must be addressed if we are to have any chance of hitting that 2020 target.”

Other top asks of the UK and Scottish Government by SR on renewable heat include:

  • Exploring more progressive planning polices, emulating other parts of the UK, to increase uptake of renewable and low-carbon heat technologies;
  • Working with industry to drive the further development of a regulatory framework designed to support market growth in renewable and low-carbon heat and increase investor and consumer confidence


Wick district heating scheme heats local hospital and fires whisky distillery

Wick’s District Heating Scheme has been using locally-sourced timber as fuel since 2013. The project links the Pulteney Distillery, 200 homes and a public meeting room and concert hall with underground pipes carrying water heated by a central boiler, dramatically reducing heating costs.

The scheme, owned by Ignis Biomass, recently connected its largest heat customer to date – the Caithness General Hospital.

NHS Highland Head of Estates Eric Green said: “Connection of Caithness General Hospital to the district heating produces the best combination of security of supply, cost and environmental benefit.

“Not only does the proposal from Ignis have the added advantage of being more efficient, and will therefore save us money, but it is also much more environmentally friendly and will reduce our carbon emissions.”

Craig Ibbetson, Director of Ignis Biomass, said: “This one district heating scheme has enabled investment – £4 million to date, with more planned – created and sustained six local jobs, and contributed more than £500,000 a year to the local economy, as well as providing all those conncected to the system with clean, reliable and affordable heat.

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