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January 18, 2024

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Catrin Bates

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Scotland Study Tour

At the start of December, we hosted a group of 50 delegates in southern Scotland on a three-day Study Tour. The aim was to learn about net zero heat, retrofit, and decarbonisation solutions on a large-scale while bringing together professionals from a range of organisations – finance, technology, government, housing providers, contractors – to forge new relationships.

The trip was sponsored by Innovate UK with additional sponsorship from Star Refrigeration and iOpt Limited as well as support from a number of organisations who kindly gave up their time to welcome us or join our workshops – Scottish Enterprise, CCG, BE-ST, NMIS, Clyde Gateway, Wheatley Homes, British Geological Survey (BGS), John Gilbert Architects, ECD Architects, UKIB, Ecosystems Technologies, and Living Places.

After three days, seven scheme visits, two factory tours, 18 presentations, and two workshop discussions, there was a lot to reflect upon! Below are our main takeaways from what we learned on the Study Tour:

Long-term, locally-led planning and delivery is key

All Local Authorities in Scotland were required to complete a LHEES (Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategy) by 31 December 2023.  LHEES are at the heart of a place-based, tailored approach to the net zero heat transition and will provide the long-term planning required to reach the Scottish Government’s target of net zero emissions by 2045.  

This appears similar to the approach in the Netherlands where councils must set out how they will decarbonise different areas.  It's such a helpful requirement - having a clear understanding of the plan for a local area can drive better decision making for asset owners. 

See a slideshow of images from the Study Tour:

Design by Energiesprong UK

District Heating is a big piece of the net zero heat puzzle

We saw a lot of district heating in Scotland, because this is clearly going to be a huge part of the answer across the UK.  We saw water source, air source, 5th generation low temperature distributed, high temperature gas CHP, and mine water research.  There is clearly not a 'one size fits all' district heating solution, so it was great to be able to see all these different systems in such close proximity to each other.

District heating (DH) requires a long-term vision.  It needs policy support.  Some elements of DH such as installing pipes underground or setting policies for all new developments to have to connect to DH is far easier when there is a regeneration or development project happening already, such as those we saw at Queens Quay in Clydebank and Clyde Gateway.  

Queens Quay Energy Centre

Mine water could be a source of geothermal heating

We discovered that there are opportunities to retrofit heat networks without taking up lots of space.  Mine water is under 25% of homes in the UK, who knew! And the seams connect for miles.  The BGS research being carried out at the Geoenergy Observatory we visited will provide hugely valuable knowledge into how to reduce costs for delivering efficient heat networks run from mine water.  It will also help inform standards, and to help understand how different types of geological conditions perform in different circumstances.

A not-for-profit approach to heating homes

Morten Jordt Duedahl from the Danish Board of District Heating shared how the local authorities in Copenhagen have a not-for-profit model for their district heating.  Their focus is how to provide heat in the most affordable way, rather than how to maximise profits.  The challenge for the heat network is about purchasing electricity.   

Electricity is the main cost as we were told by Dave Pearson from Star Refrigeration during our visit to Clydebank (electricity and toilet roll are the only things they buy!). During discussions after the presentations, we talked about how maybe a local authority could invest in their own renewable energy in order to manage the cost and have free electricity, and then the next day we saw just that at Clyde Gateway where they were using ground mounted solar until the solar panels could be transferred to buildings in future.

Wheatley Group – Scotland's leading social housing and care service provider - also have a 'Copenhagen style' not-for-profit approach with their heat networks.  They have around 3,000 homes on heat networks which they manage, and during Covid they were able to waive the cost for residents.   They showed us some of their retrofit projects - including their approach to high rise retrofit costing a refreshingly low figure of under £10,000 per home, taking the approach of using the storage heaters which still had reasonable life, but using better controls and data, along with insulation. The homes are fitted with Connected Response devices to help tenants control their electric heating. The technology helps tenants pay only for the energy they need by measuring the temperature inside and outside, while also using cheaper tariff periods throughout the day to charge the heating and hot water. The success of the project has led to the devices being installed in 10,000 homes across their estate.  

Morten Jordt Duedahl presenting

Advances in the use of natural materials for our buildings

Insulations and material were the focus when we got to BE-ST.  We all had a tour of the factory – we loved the encouragement to ask as many questions as possible and take photographs.  There were a lot of discussions around timber and other bio-based natural building materials.  

Buildings are better for people and the planet if they are made from natural materials, and BE-ST are doing a lot to help understand how to create building products from Scottish grown timber while also considering issues such as safety standards and fire.  Their Innovation Factory is a fantastic resource - we wish there was one in every city!

Speaking of timber, we saw a huge amount at CCG's manufacturing facility! Described by the Scottish Government as one of Scotland’s most innovative and dynamic construction & manufacturing organisations.  The group hugely enjoyed the visit to CCG’s OSM (Offsite manufacturing) facility that delivers 1200 homes per year as well as care homes and schools from their 130,000ft timber frame facility.  

Tour of the BE-ST Innovation Factory

We need to think long-term and holistically

Chris Morgan from John Gilbert Architects presented their Niddrie Road project as a case study for retrofitting tenement buildings. Although it’s more difficult, complicated, and expensive, doing everything at once is the right thing to do, he said.  

It was interesting to hear that the retrofit measures on this project cost approximately £30k, but the total cost was over £100k, which is something we’re very familiar with.  Costs which relate to a lack of maintenance often get grouped into the cost of retrofit, because issues are uncovered due to the retrofit, but these costs are inevitable, and will often get worse if not uncovered.

Stuart Leslie from the UK Infrastructure Bank also reiterated the importance for long-term and holistic planning when it comes to financing retrofit projects. Stuart described the impact of inflation and interest rates on financial models and yields, and underlined the importance of strategic alignment i.e. how decarbonisation is structurally a different problem to fuel poverty, and thus requires a different toolbox.  

Business analytics company and one of our tour sponsors, iOpt, reinforced our already held view that data plays a huge role in the roll out of appropriate solutions. iOpt uses data from a variety of sensor types to give landlords and property managers a richer data driven understanding of how their homes are performing and how they are being used. Since establishing in 2016, they have deployed 25,000 sensors for 50+ customers across the UK. The data helps their clients make informed decisions about prioritising retrofit programmes.    

Thank you to everyone who attended the tour. And to all the speakers and facilitators who contributed to the event. And a huge thank you to the Study Tour sponsors who helped make it all possible.