One of Glasgow’s most historic buildings is to be heated by river water as part of a groundbreaking project to improve sustainability of the building and reduce costs.

It comes after Glasgow City Council granted planning permission for the installation of a river source heat pump in the River Clyde on the south bank at the back of Govan Old Parish Church. 

The pump, which will be located below water level, will extract and return water to be used in the heating of Govan Old in a closed loop system. 

According to Govan Heritage Trust, which owns and manages Govan Old, the project will be the first time this form of sustainable heat generation has been used in a historic building in Glasgow. 

Pat Cassidy, Trustee of Govan Heritage Trust, told The Herald: “We’re very pleased GCC has granted us planning permission.

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"Govan Old is a massive building the size of a cathedral, which hasn’t had a proper heating system for decades because, both technically and financially, there are problems heating it. We believe the River Source Heat Pump can solve that.

"Environmentally, this is an important pioneering project that could be an exemplar for large buildings elsewhere with the same access to water, of which there are many on the Clyde.

"We’re still fundraising to make the Govan Old project happen but are pleased at this stage to get the green light from the planners.”       

The river water heat pump project is being developed in association with an extensive building project designed to secure the future of the A-Listed church, which was built in 1888 and stands on a religious site dating back to the sixth century.  

In 2007, Reverend Tom Davidson Kelly, a former minister of the church, described Govan Old as “possibly the most significant church in Glasgow, including the Cathedral”.

The Herald: Govan Old Parish ChurchGovan Old Parish Church

He also claimed the building was being used as a centre of worship before the formation of Scotland as a nation.

The oldest known Christian site in Glasgow, Govan Old has 31 pre-Christian and Christian sculptured stones, including five hogback monuments dating back to the ninth and 10th centuries, which are thought to have been originally used as grave markers. 

The sculptures represent one of the largest collections of early medieval stones in Scotland.

Planning documents for the heat pump note how “heating the massive volume of the Church is clearly expensive in terms of both carbon footprint and fuel purchase”.

As such, the project is designed to use river water “to improve sustainability of the building and reduce the costs”. 

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“The process consists of extraction of water from the Clyde with the use of a fully submerged pump and piping this in a closed loop to the heating plant installed in the basement of the building.

"A modest heat gain is captured before the river water is returned to the Clyde at the point where it is extracted. The pump is run by mains electricity from the Church and all cabling and ducting is underground”, the planning documents add. 

The heat pump project is being funded by the Scottish Government’s Clyde Mission Fund through Glasgow City Council and monitored by Chris Burrows, Chris Burrows, Principal Offer for City Deal Investment in the Waterfront and West End at the council. 

Clyde Mission’s purpose is to use the River Clyde to drive sustainable and inclusive growth for the city, the region and Scotland. 

The Clyde Mission Fund is open to public sector, private sector and third sector or community organisations, with funding targeted at projects within the footprint of the Mission - broadly 500 metres either side of the river from Clyde Gateway through to Gourock/Dunoon.

The project at Govan Old follows that of the West Dunbartonshire Energy Centre, which became the first project to take heat from the River Clyde to create green heat energy when it officially opened in October 2021 as Glasgow geared up to host the COP26 climate conference.

The Herald: West Dunbartonshire Energy Centre West Dunbartonshire Energy Centre

The £20 million project - the first large-scale heat pump of its kind in Scotland - takes heat from the Clyde and uses it to heat local homes and businesses within the 23-hectare Queens Quay waterside development in Clydebank.

At full build, the system will deliver circa 2,000 tonnes of carbon reduction from the environment per year.

In May 2021, independent research published by Greenspace Scotland revealed that Scotland’s rivers could hold the key to a low carbon future, with the River Clyde offering the single biggest opportunity in Scotland to harness heat from water.

The Green Heat in Greenspace study showed that through the use of heat pump technologies, Scotland’s urban rivers and greenspaces can act as major low carbon heat generators, with the potential to supply nearly 80% (41 TWh) of the heat demand from Scotland’s towns and cities. 

While cities such as Perth, Aberdeen, Stirling and Inverness are all "ideal candidates" for major river based heat schemes, Greenspace Scotland said that it is Glasgow that, "in absolute terms, offers the greatest capacity to offset its carbon footprint".

"The heat demand of Greater Glasgow is one fifth of the total demand from all of Scotland’s settlements", Greenspace Scotland added.