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Time to shine a light on low-carbon heat technologies

By Scottish Renewables

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District heat system in Broomhill powered by biomass.
District heat system in Broomhill powered by biomass.

Scotland’s renewable electricity sector has made incredible advances in recent years, with light bulbs, schools and electric vehicles across Scotland now powered by 74 per cent renewable electricity, meaning we are well on our way to hitting our 100 per cent renewable electricity target by 2020.

The uncharacteristically balmy summer evenings we have experienced in recent weeks – a stark reminder of the climate emergency we face – have made our thermostats redundant for the time being.

But as autumn and winter approach, we will turn to the technology that lurks behind cupboard doors and hides in the shadows to keep us warm.

Today, that technology is likely to be fossil-powered: gas for those lucky enough to live on-grid; oil or even coal for those in rural areas.

The future, though, will be different – with the Scottish Government’s aim to deliver 11 per cent of non-electrical heat demand from renewable sources by 2020, it is now time to shine a light on the innovative low-carbon heat technology which will keep Scotland cosy into the 2020s and beyond.

Heat pumps take warmth from ground, air or water, use a small amount of electricity to compress it and provide heat to humans in offices, homes and public buildings.

In the Borders, Scotland’s first heat from sewage system uses a heat pump to extract warmth from underground waste water and uses it to provide low-carbon warmth to students in Galashiels.

Heat from sewage system in the Borders.
Heat from sewage system in the Borders.

Solar thermal uses the sun’s rays in a similar way. Even Scotland’s notoriously dreich skies provide fodder for these panels; for too long electricity-generating PV’s silent cousin.

Biomass CHP turns wood into gas by heating it to more than 800C, then uses that gas to produce renewable, low-carbon heat and electricity.

And across Scotland, locally-grown timber is chipped and burned to fire gigantic district heating systems, warming (among other things) more than 700 high-rise flats in Glasgow and Floors, Scotland’s largest inhabited castle.

All these technologies are, for the most part, hidden from public view.

Integrating these technologies into communities across Scotland is going to be critical in going beyond the 2020 target. The Scottish Government’s energy strategy outlines a target of 50 per cent of all energy coming from renewable sources by 2030. Government must work closely with industry if this highly ambitious target is to be reached.

Difficult choices will need to be made by government, consumers and local authorities. District heat networks will need to be built, gas boilers will need swapped-out for low-carbon alternatives and an infrastructure to support and develop a supply chain for the sector will be essential.

Solar thermal uses the suns rays to produce heat.
Solar thermal uses the suns rays to produce heat.

Our Low-Carbon Heat Exhibition, which opened last month (July 25) at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI), was conceived to shine a light on the low-carbon heat technology of the future.

No longer should heat pumps, biomass boilers, CHP engines and solar thermal be hidden away.

This concealed technology is now on display in a dramatic new exhibition in the ECCI’s staircase gallery, itself home to low-carbon heat devices and electricity-generating PV panels.

It’s time to be proud of what we’ve achieved so far in low-carbon heat – and admire the technology which can take us on the journey to reach our target that 50 per cent of all energy will come from renewables by 2030.

Scottish Renewables’ Low-Carbon Heat Exhibition, at the ECCI (High School Yards, Infirmary Street, Edinburgh EH1 1LZ) is open to the public between 8.45am and 4.45pm, Monday to Friday, until September 30.

Heat pumps.
Heat pumps.

The exhibition is sponsored by Turner, SHARC Energy, Natural Power, Vattenfall, Ramboll and Brodies. Photographs by John Linton and Jose Vega-Lozano/Aerial Vision.

For more information, and to hear about our work on low-carbon heat, contact me, Nick Sharpe, Scottish Renewables’ director of communications, by email or on 0141 353 4984.

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