Guy Milligan

October 27, 2021

Five novel approaches from Scotland to decarbonising energy

Unlikely sources of carbon-free heat are helping Scotland demonstrate what a green energy transition could look like for buildings and urban spaces - setting an example for the world to follow.

Better known for its windy, wet, and cool climate than its natural heat sources, Scotland has made carbon-free heat a cornerstone of its ambition to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. Alongside growth in renewables such as wind energy, Scotland is pursuing novel and unlikely clean energy approaches to power it’s buildings and urban environments. A critical move given that buildings account for 38% of all energy-related carbon emissions according to a UN study.
Here’s a look at five ways Scotland’s towns and cities are re-thinking the urban environment to meet the demand for carbon-free energy and setting an example for the world to follow.
1. From brown waste to green energy
Cities all around the world have the potential to leverage dirty wastewater into clean green energy. Scotland implemented a first-of-its-kind system to extract energy from sewage to supply a district heat network in Stirling City. This is just one of the innovative approaches Scottish Water Horizons is adopting to help Scottish Water reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2040.
The system’s waste-water heat pump is the largest installation of its kind in the UK and supplies multiple key public buildings. The energy centre includes heat pumps which recover heat from wastewater that is delivered to the district heating network, as well as a gas-fired CHP which generates electricity for the wastewater treatment works and supplies waste heat to the district heating network.
2. Greening industrial legacies for renewable heat
In Scotland, investigations are underway to explore the potential to leverage its legacy in industrial coal mining for the benefit of green energy generation. The UK Geoenergy Observatories project, funded by UK Government, will provide breakthrough understanding for scientists, industry and policy makers on whether mine water resource can provide a long-term, low-cost, low-carbon heat source for homes and businesses.
We hope many cities all around the world who also have disused mines will be tracking the progress and scientific learnings from this project, run by the British Geological Survey, to see how the huge untapped resource right beneath our feet might be used to give the mines a new green future.
3. Rivers powering cities
Glasgow’s Queens Quay waterside regeneration development is home to the largest water-source heat pump district heating scheme in Scotland. The system extracts heat from the River Clyde, and the temperature is raised by the heat pump and distributed by underground insulated pipes to local homes and businesses. Displacing natural gas boilers, the scheme avoids more than 2,000 tonnes of carbon emissions annually. As the first large-scale heat pump of its kind in Scotland, the project is being proudly showcased in the COP26 Green Zone.
Owned and operated by West Dunbartonshire Council and supported with funding from the Scottish Government, the Queens Quay projects demonstrates the huge potential for cities to be heated by its rivers. Indeed, the ‘Green Heat in Greenspace study’ shows that urban rivers and greenspaces could supply nearly 80% of Scotland’s heat demand, with carbon savings equivalent to removing 60% of Scotland’s car fleet from the roads for a year.
4. Green spaces for green energy
From re-purposing industrial legacies to utilising current green spaces, a methodology has been developed to determine the energy generation opportunities from Scotland’s parks and green spaces. There are about 3,500 parks and 100,000 green spaces distributed across Scotland’s cities and towns, and a recent study by Ramboll found that Scotland’s green spaces could generate 43 percent of Scotland's heat demand.
The learnings from the project ‘ParkPower’, commissioned by charity Greenspace Scotland, were applied into a data-driven geographic information system (GIS) solution, enabling stakeholders to explore how these assets can be fully utilised. The report, GIS dashboard, and other information on the potential for green energy in urban spaces is freely available on Greenspace Scotland’s website.
5. Community-focused energy systems
Scotland is also leveraging a community-focused whole energy systems approach at Clyde Gateway in Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest and most ambitious regeneration programme. The focus is on the interconnection of intelligent demands, exploiting low carbon and waste heat sources combined with energy storage, and sharing of energy across the whole system – maximising resource efficiency and minimising energy losses.
The first phase of the development included a new district heating network and energy centre consisting of a gas fired CHP supplying electricity to a wastewater treatment works and waste heat to a new district heating network in Dalmarnock. Now concept work is underway for an innovative ambient loop district energy network that will recover energy from wastewater at the wastewater treatment works and supply heating and cooling to other new developments. There are very few of these systems around the world making this an exciting demonstrator project to help other cities explore how to heat and cool their buildings.
Scotland’s exploration of novel energy sources raises optimism for how much of the world’s heat demand could be met through thinking differently about our urban environments and Ramboll is delighted to be supporting such innovative projects.

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  • Guy Milligan

    Head of Department - District Energy

    +44 7583 107816

    Guy Milligan