SCOTLAND'S parks and green spaces could provide low-carbon energy to heat 15% of the country's homes and help tackle climate change, according to new research.

A study of 3,500 green spaces suggested urban parks could be used to generate significant amounts of previously untapped energy by capturing the heat in the ground and feeding it out to heat neighbouring homes.

The research by Greenspace Scotland says the energy potential is enough to supply low carbon heat to a population the size of Glasgow and Dundee combined.

This would save the same amount of carbon as 10 years growth from planting 9½ million tree saplings.

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The group says that the idea could be invaluable because tackling the problem of weaning our residential and commercial buildings off their dependence on gas-based heating is proving "extremely challenging" with Scotland unlikely to meet its target for supplying 11% of heat demand from low carbon sources by 2020.

It says the most recent estimates suggest we are nearer 6%.

Greenspace Scotland, estimates that heat from the ground in urban green space could supply 5% of Scotland's total heat demand.

The research was carried out by energy and and engineering consultants Ramboll.

UK district energy manager Paul Steen said: "A key challenge in meeting Scotland's net-zero carbon ambition by 2045 is decarbonising our energy system. The ParkPower project shows the huge green-energy potential waiting to be unlocked."

A ParkPower Conference being organised for tomorrow (Weds) at The Barracks Conference Centre, Stirling will hear about early findings from options appraisal work that Greenspace Scotland is carrying out at five parks - Callander Park, Camelon Greenspace, Helix Park, Zetland Park and Strathclyde Country Park.

A scheme at Saughton Public Park in Edinburgh has been used as a pilot but only to heat buildings within the park.

In January, the Scottish Government brought in new rules to ensure all homes built in Scotland use renewable or low-carbon heating.

The regulations, being introduced by the Scottish government from 2024, are part of plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Renewable and low-carbon systems will also be phased in for new non-domestic buildings from 2024.

Low-carbon heating is often used to refer to systems that use heat pumps or other alternatives to gas boilers.

The ParkPower report suggests that ground-source heat pumps in urban parks could save vast amounts of carbon by replacing fossil-fuel heating systems.

The pumps would be buried more than 3ft under football pitches or recreational grass land.

It involves laying horizontal coils which extract heat from the soil which is, in turn, heated by the sun, making it renewable.

The longer the coil, the more heat can be extracted meaning significant numbers of homes can be kept warm through district heating.

Julie Procter, chief executive of Greenspace Scotland said: “We are all familiar with thinking about Scotland’s parks as our natural health service, our children’s outdoor classrooms and our cities’ green lungs. The findings of the ParkPower project mean we could soon add ‘community power stations’ to the list.”

The report also reveals which Scottish local authorities have the greatest untapped energy potential from their parks and greenspaces.

It says that many of the authorities have declared climate emergencies and are in the process of drawing up plans to achieve their net zero carbon targets.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, as the council with the largest area of greenspace, Glasgow is rated as the local authority with the greatest potential to meet its heat demand from sub-surface heat collectors.

It is closely followed by Edinburgh, with Fife, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire and Dundee making up the top six.

The charity is currently working with City of Edinburgh and Glasgow City Councils to undertake strategic assessments to identify their "optimal ParkPower sites".

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John Maslen, ParkPower project manager said: “We need to shift the opinion of many green space owners that these open spaces are not liabilities with ongoing maintenance overheads but are, in fact, valuable assets, vital to the supply of low carbon heat to our homes and businesses.

"They are islands of low carbon energy opportunity amid seas of energy demand. 

"The potential is huge: with over fifty percent of our urban surface area being greenspace, these sites provide the open space that’s needed in our crowded towns and cities to support the effective implementation of heat pump technology.

"With enlightened thinking, strong organisational leadership and more comprehensive legal title information, Scotland’s greenspace can play a leading role in moving us closer to our 2045 net zero carbon target.”