Paul Wheelhouse: Statement on Decarbonising Heat

On 22 November Scotland’s Minister for Energy, Connectivity & the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, gave a Ministerial Statement on the Energy Efficient Scotland programme. It focused on the Scottish government’s desire to create a credible framework for decarbonising heat.

The statement was well timed. Uncertainty around the future of the Feed-in Tariff and dramatic cuts to those tariffs over the last few years inflicted huge damage on the small-scale generation industry, even before the closure of the scheme in March 2019 was announced without the promised and long overdue review.

The impact of these cuts can be seen in the figures below.

Drop in the number of installations between 2015 and 2017:

  • 58.7% reduction in hydro installations
  • 80.4% reduction in wind installations
  • 95.1% reduction in AD installations
  • 80.7% reduction in domestic solar PV installations
  • 97.3% reduction in commercial solar PV installations

As we can see, the solar PV industry was almost entirely wiped out.

This cannot be allowed to happen in the renewable heat space. The Energy Efficient Scotland programme includes demanding targets for heat, with 35% of domestic and 70% of non-domestic buildings to be heated by low carbon technologies by 2032. No wonder, then, that there is a real need for that ‘credible framework’ to deliver these targets.

The minister’s statement, therefore, was welcome. It was particularly heartening, in light of what we’ve experienced with the FiT, to hear Paul Wheelhouse speak of the need for some certainty around ‘life after the RHI’.

To support this, there will be a call for evidence early next year to investigate:

  • Granting permitted development status and wayleaves to district heating projects
  • Moving towards regulation of the district heating industry
  • They will also seek evidence as to whether further incentives can be made available for renewable heat

There will be a specific focus on off-gas grid areas, where the use of dirty and expensive fuels makes the case for renewable heat even more compelling. District heating is also regarded as a key component of the renewable heat mix and gets specific attention.

There is always more to be done but, as Paul Wheelhouse points out, the Scottish government has a reasonable track record in this area and it should be congratulated for that.

Measures such as Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies (LHEES), the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme (LCITP) and Home Energy Scotland resource efficient loans have all helped to drive the low carbon heat agenda.

Against this background, the Scottish government’s decision to consult on further incentives is heartening. We look forward to responding but there are other, simpler and more immediate measures that can be taken.

The UK’s Clean Growth Strategy has a whole section on the role of the public sector, summed up in the sentence: “We want the public sector to be a leader in reducing carbon emissions.”

This is a laudable, as well as logical, sentiment but it does need to be reflected by action on the ground.

For example, there are regular tenders on the Public Contracts Scotland platform for the replacement of fossil fuel / electric heating systems. During 2017, we have contacted a number of these public sector buyers to ask whether they would consider a low carbon heating alternative. The answer, to all of these enquiries, has been ‘no’.

In some cases, gas boilers may be the most economical route but in others, especially oil and electric heating systems, surely a low carbon replacement could compete?

Surely, there is scope for the Scottish government to mandate that every tender for new or renewed heating systems in the public sector estate should allow for a low carbon response?

You can view the full Paul Wheelhouse Ministerial Statement (and questions thereafter) here:

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