What does this all mean for Scottish Government?
The Scottish Government’s Heat in Buildings Strategy, published in 2021 just ahead of the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, sets the welcome ambition of converting over one million homes to low carbon heat by 2030. This is what’s required as part of Scotland’s contribution to limiting global warming to 1.5 C, the threshold for retaining a safe and liveable climate. Meeting this target will be challenging, and to accelerate the transition the strategy proposes new regulations that would require households to fit low carbon heating systems and energy efficiency measures.
Phase out dates for new installations of fossil fuel boilers were proposed, which would mean that from 2025 for oil and 2030 for gas, anyone replacing a boiler in a house would need to fit a low carbon alternative. It’s also proposed that anyone buying or selling a home be required to make energy efficiency improvements. Our research shows that individual electric heat pumps are most cost-effective way to meet these vital requirements. They’re already ultra-low carbon and can provide cost-effective heating – which will improve as the UK’s electricity markets are reformed over the coming years. A variety of heat pump types will be needed to match our varied housing stock, and it’s important that Government schemes are extended to support models such as air-to-air units. It will also be important to bring homes up to a good standard of energy efficiency, to ensure efficient heat pump design and operation.
The Heat in Buildings Strategy proposes different rules for flats and tenements, linked to the development of shared low-carbon heating systems (like district heat networks). Our research supports this approach, finding additional challenges and costs to fitting individual heat pumps in such dwellings that shared systems could solve.
Upfront costs will remain a challenge until costs reduce and so Government financial support should continue alongside regulation, for example through grant and fuel poverty schemes. Regulation will be crucial to reduce those costs, by allowing supply chains to invest, expand and mature.
And finally, we recommend that hydrogen not be relied upon as the main solution for homes, given the risk that it could delay investment in more established solutions. Using it for heating could also divert low-carbon hydrogen from sectors like heavy industry and transport, that have fewer alternatives.