Duncan Smith: Heat networks - collaboration, scale and ambition

Duncan Smith: Heat networks - collaboration, scale and ambition

Duncan Smith

Duncan Smith, head of energy & sustainability at River Clyde Homes, reflects on an information event on the delivery of heat networks and asks how projects can be scaled up to a city-wide level.

Some colleagues from River Clyde Homes and I attended this week’s Heat Networks Delivery session with the Scottish Futures Trust, the Scottish Government, and Zero Waste Scotland in Glasgow.

There were some excellent presentations by Renfrewshire Council and Midlothian Council on the type of heat networks they have built and how others can learn and adapt the delivery models they have created.

Walking back to the train station on my way home, I was incredibly impressed by what I had heard. Some fantastic people are working on developing heat networks across Scotland within the Scottish Government and wider public sector as well as at the local authority level – developing solutions, innovating and driving change.

This change is critical for Scotland as a country, for our economy and society, as well as our wider environmental obligations as a responsible nation and custodian of the planet.

What I heard throughout the session was a cohort of professionals who are in the vanguard of a critically important movement that we need over the coming decade. It is a movement that has the potential to build the foundations of heat networks that, in the future, could keep hundreds of thousands of Scotland’s homes and buildings warm.


And their experience and the lessons they can teach others are so important - because there is an opportunity in Scotland right now. An opportunity to do things differently, to change the current energy dynamic, and to create a better system.

The question is how can we develop affordable low-carbon heat networks at a city-wide scale – which, in turn, can positively contribute to our economy and our society – rather than the other way around?

To answer this, the themes that ran through the session were collaboration and scale. I could not agree more.

Collaboration, Scale & Ambition

We must collaborate and look at the size and scale of the opportunity across public and private sectors and council boundaries – heat networks work best where they are designed to serve entire towns and cities, and we’ve got to look at both a regional and national approach within a local context.

To do this, we need a strategic approach at the local authority level and long-term thinking within the LHEES strategies. But perhaps as importantly, we need ambition and leadership.

Because this opportunity we have in front of us can only be realised if we work collaboratively. That means councils, housing associations, and the public and private sectors working together.

And in terms of scale, we need to learn the lessons for our Danish colleagues. We need to think big. Think strategically and collaboratively. Think city-wide scale leading to regional distribution models in time. Some 98% of Copenhagen’s homes and buildings and over 60% of all households in Denmark are connected to a heat network.


Now, I’m not saying that the answers were given in that room on Tuesday, but the questions are being asked as to how we change the dynamic and deliver clean, affordable heating across Scotland’s towns and cities.

How do we solve the net zero challenge -  that we collectively own – whilst eradicating fuel poverty through the delivery of heat networks? That is an exciting forum and movement to be a part of.

However, It would not be accurate to tell you that everyone in the room was convinced – and hey that’s absolutely fine. Healthy societies promote robust discussions and respectful disagreements across a range of policies.

But it’s up to the existing converts and fifth-generation evangelists like me to keep developing and refining the argument and proving -  on the ground - that heat networks are not only the best solution for many of our homes in our Net Zero journey but also an incredible opportunity for Scotland to eradicate fuel poverty and improve the health the nation.

Will this be easy? Absolutely not - it will be a long journey and take a huge amount of time, money, commitment, effort and energy from hundreds if not thousands of companies, organisations, councils, policymakers, civil servants, council officers, engineers, landlords and building owners to get where we need to be.

However, all of the alternatives are the same without the opportunity and most likely more expensive.

And lastly, on the work that is required and the collaboration, scale and ambition we need, the words of another Heat Networks convert with connections to this part of the Clyde spring to mind – “if not us, then who and if not now, then when?”

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