Scotland’s Heat In Buildings Strategy: Clade’s View

In early October the Heat in Buildings Strategy for Scotland was released.

We will soon be publishing a blog outlining our thoughts on the UK Heat In Buildings strategy, but we’ve already had time to digest the Scotland document and there are some interesting things we wanted to call attention to.

What Is The Aim Of The Scottish Heat In Buildings Strategy?

The purpose of the strategy is to plan how the country will reduce the level of greenhouse gas emissions arising from the heating of buildings and alleviate fuel poverty. It outlines a combination of short-term fixes and long-term goals that work towards the following goals:

-75% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from heating buildings by 2030
-90% reduction by 2040
-Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045

On top of this, the Scottish Government has outlined ambitions to drastically reduce fuel poverty. It has set the target that by 2040 no more than 5% of households are fuel poor.

The idea is that the implementation of the strategy will create a building stock that is cleaner, better for the planet and easier to heat. It’s a significant challenge – as well as ensuring the entire housing stock meets at least EPC band C for energy efficiency by 2033, the government will need to drastically change the way buildings are heated. By 2030, the vast majority of the 170,000 existing off-gas Scottish homes must be switched to a green alternative. The same goes for over 1m homes currently on mains gas, and around 50,000 non-domestic properties.

In recent years around 3000 renewable heating systems have been installed in Scottish homes every year. This is going to have to accelerate dramatically – 124,000 systems need to be installed between 2021 and 2026, and 200,000 systems will need to be installed annually in the late 2020s.

What Measures Are The Scottish Government Promising?

The Strategy commits the Scottish government to investing at least £1.8bn in emissions-reducing measures over the course of this parliament. They will be setting up a National Public Energy Agency to manage the transformation required with the remit of raising public awareness, attracting investment and coordinating national, regional and local roll-out of measures.

The measures they will take will be:

-Drastically increasing the energy efficiency of existing buildings
-Deploying heat pumps in off-gas areas, and in those on-gas areas where hydrogen roll-out is deemed least likely
-Creation of heat networks in suitable areas
They describe these measures as the ‘no and low regrets deployment opportunities and technologies available today’.

How This Relates To The UK’s Heat And Buildings Strategy

“While we are taking action in areas where we can, we do not have all the powers necessary to deliver the zero emissions heat transition. The delayed UK Heat and Buildings Strategy must set out how the UK will use its regulatory and policy levers to incentivise rapid deployment of zero emissions heat technologies and make zero emissions heat the cost-effective choice. We continue to press the UK Government to act urgently, whilst we do everything we can within our powers to accelerate progress in a way that is just and fair.”

In the Strategy, the Scottish Government is at pains to point out that to a significant extent its success is reliant on the UK Government taking action. Particularly when it comes to ensuring the electricity and gas systems are managed and regulated.

With the UK’s heat in buildings strategy now released, we can hope to see some proper coordination between the governments.

What Is Clade’s View On The Strategy?

Scotland’s strategy paper sets out the issues clearly and has the intention to deliver the right outcomes. However, it does avoid the tough questions – particularly around how they will resolve the paradoxes of fuel poverty versus investment and rising utility prices. For example, there is an assumption that hydrogen will become widely available and yet every single carbon caption plant build has failed to work, making blue hydrogen nothing but a dream at this time. It is clear already that we will not have the capability to produce completely hydrogen in large quantities in an environmentally friendly way until it is too late, as we discuss in this blog comparing heat pumps to hydrogen.

Also, building standards have been kept artificially low by poor regulation up until now – see this excellent report for an explanation of why. Now there will be a massive public cost to correct this, but the developers will still make off with record profits. That’s unjust, and unaddressed by this heat in building strategy.

We do welcome the commitment to wider heat pump deployment as a low-risk and low-cost method of electrifying heat. However, we do have concerns on this front. The Scottish Government appears to be planning to transition a large chunk of mains gas-heated buildings to biomethane, rather than moving from natural gas entirely, and seems to be placing a lot of faith in hydrogen roll-out, which is flawed as we have mentioned above. We believe there should be far more urgent focus on electrifying the vast majority of the heating system.

The Strategy is a step forward, however, and the Scottish Government has committed to publishing several further documents outlining the specifics of its energy policy. We will be interested to see what they contain.