Writing exclusively for the Herald on Sunday, Patrick Harvie, Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, reveals why the way we heat our homes needs to change and how to tackle the massive challenge ahead


The climate emergency is the defining issue of our time.

Scotland has the right ambition. But we are now wrestling with how to make it happen. That challenge is all encompassing: in how we farm and use land, how we travel, how we produce and dispose of goods. And in how we heat our homes and other buildings. One obvious way to do that is to reduce energy demand. That is why we want all homes to reach new energy efficiency standards by no later than 2033. And, in turn, that is why this week I will be launching a consultation on proposed reforms to the system of Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) which aim to show how energy efficient a home or building is.

Improved energy efficiency is essential but nowhere near enough. We can’t insulate our way to zero carbon buildings. To do that we need to change the way we heat homes. To meet our 2030 targets alone, more than one million Scottish homes will need to change to a climate friendly heating system: a massive transition – as big as the shift from coal to gas last century, but in a shorter timescale. This is happening across Europe. In Norway, for example, more than 100,000 homes a year are moving from fossil fuels to heat pumps. And there are already good examples at home.

Last month I visited West of Scotland Housing Association’s Dundashill development – 90 ultra-low energy homes with Air Source Heat Pumps and solar panel systems installed in each home. We need much more of that. So, from next April, newly built homes and other buildings coming forward for building warrant will need to have a climate-friendly heating system. Scotland’s construction industry is building the future we need right now. But, of course, the biggest challenge we face is bringing existing properties – 2.5 million homes, 100,000 other buildings – from fossil fuel heating to climate friendly heating.

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What does that mean? For most people, it means either a very energy efficient heat pump or another modern form of electric heating. For some households it will mean drawing on a heat network – systems of pipes used to transfer heat from one central source to nearby homes, schools or offices. These are commonplace in Europe and 30,000 homes already access a heat network in Scotland. More will follow such as at Queen’s Quay in Clydebank where more than 1,000 new homes are set to be heated by water pumped from the Clyde.

The Herald: New homes are set to be heated by water pumped from the Clyde at Queen's QuayNew homes are set to be heated by water pumped from the Clyde at Queen's Quay (Image: Newsquest)

My job is to support that kind of shift at a pace and scale that is consistent with Scotland’s legal climate targets. That is the backdrop to proposals for a Heat in Buildings Bill that I will be consulting on after the summer recess of Parliament. In every country making this transition, regulation is needed to steer choices about energy use and heating systems. Scotland is no different It’s what our manufacturers and installers need as well, with the prospect of thousands of skilled, secure jobs for decades ahead. But we are not asking households to make this transition by themselves. The package of support provided by the Scottish Government is already the most generous in the UK.

We updated the Home Energy Scotland Scotland scheme last December and we will be launching a new Warmer Homes Scotland scheme in the Autumn. We have provided specific funds for public buildings, heat networks and social landlords and I am excited by some of the plans I see coming forward. At the same time our Green Heat Finance Task Force is working on some of the innovative financial products coming through the private sector.

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So the challenge is daunting. But the prize is huge. Not just in making sure that Scotland meets the climate emergency head-on but in securing our energy future; providing the jobs and skills we need and making us all less vulnerable to volatile fossil fuel prices. We can’t do it entirely alone and the UK’s Climate Change Committee has highlighted that the UK Government must equally to rise to the challenge. But I am confident that Scotland has the ambition and the will to make it happen.