NICOLA Sturgeon should push ahead with the roll-out of Scandinavian-style district heating schemes as a priority, a coalition of groups said today.

The First Minister went into the Holyrood election pledging a new Warm Homes Act in a bid to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency.

A coalition including WWF Scotland, renewable energy firms and academics said new regulations should be included to help reduce carbon emissions and aid economic development through the roll-out of district heating.

The systems, which are hugely successful in countries including Denmark but are used in less than 10,000 homes in Scotland, see giant boilers provide heat for entire districts through a network of heating pipes, rather than single households relying on individual boilers.

Advocates claim the systems are far more efficient, with the potential to drive down fuel bills, global warming and waste. However, a project to use district heating in two tower blocks in Edinburgh ran into difficulty after it soared over budget and difficulties left the council unable to bill tenants for over a year.

The organisations called for a recommendations from a The Scottish Government-appointed Special Working Group, which called for "a clear and stable regulatory environment" to help attract investment, to be included in the new law.

The recommendations also include requiring councils to develop district heating plans and handing them power to require buildings with a significant heat load to connect to a district heating network under certain circumstances. A licensing regime would ensure companies could not exploit a monopoly to overcharge customers.

Dr Sam Gardner, head of policy at WWF Scotland said: "We’re calling on the new Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, to adopt the recommendations from the Government’s expert advisers on district heating in the promised Warm Homes Act. Regulation for district heating has broad stakeholder support and if acted upon will help ensure Scotland reaps the huge benefits investment in renewable heat and district heating infrastructure will bring to the country."

David Pearson, Director of Glasgow-based Star Renewable Energy, said: "If we look to our Scandinavian neighbours, like Norway, we see that with the right regulation in place, whole towns and cities can benefit from affordable, clean heat through district heating.

"Scotland is making good progress on renewable electricity, but without the right regulatory framework we’ll lose out on the investment, jobs and economic renewal opportunities that district heating could deliver across Scotland. The requirement is simple: where heat is offered at lower cost as can be achieved from large heatpumps, developers are required to use it."