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From gas to green heating – how Vattenfall Heat is transforming Scottish homes

If the UK wants to reach its net zero by 2050 target, it needs to look for more sustainable heating solutions – something creating fertile ground for innovative businesses within that sphere. Swedish energy group Vattenfall Heat is playing a key role in the country’s shift from gas to green heating, aiming to transform the equivalent of 170,000 homes in Scotland alone. Paul Steen, Head of Business Development North at Vattenfall Heat UK, believes that the UK’s green energy transformation has only just begun.

“In the UK, the opportunity to scale up district heating is huge; half of all UK buildings are in areas suitable for connection to a district heating network, and these networks offer a unique way to connect swathes of homes and businesses to local waste heat and renewable energy at once.”

Today, approximately 85% of British homes have a gas boiler, and together they produce 92 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – making up for 14% of the UK’s total emissions. This means, Paul explains, that if the country wants to reach its net zero targets, heating needs to be part of the plan.

“Heating is a crucial part of this change – in fact, the government’s own scientific advisors have highlighted the lack of progress on low carbon heating as a key concern. Hence, we want to unleash the potential of district heating networks as an essential means of decarbonising heating and hot water on a city scale.”

Paul believes that the country has great potential to switch to more sustainable heating solutions, such as district heating, as the placement of many buildings is advantageous for the infrastructure needed. The company has already partnered up with districts in London, Bristol and outside of Edinburgh, to transform the way communities are heated, and help them deliver their net zero ambitions.

Bringing Swedish heating solutions to the UK

First founded in 1909, Vattenfall has been operating in the UK since 2008, initially focusing on delivering wind energy and fossil-free electricity. In 2018, Vattenfall Heat UK was set up as a specialist subsidiary, focused on creating a national district heating network and working with local authorities, commercial organisations, and communities.

“The UK Government has made a big commitment to district heating. It aims for 18% of homes – equivalent to more than 5 million households – to be heated by a district heating connection by 2050.” Paul explains, “Vattenfall has already built and operated such networks in 25 cities across Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark – with nearly two million end users. And seeing this potential in the UK, it felt like a natural next destination.”

According to Paul, there are numerous incentives to bring the business to the UK. In addition to the advantageous infrastructure and the climate commitments made by the UK Government, he highlights the support offered to businesses going into the country.

“Thanks to government-led networking events, we could connect with partners including heat generators and heat customers, to promote and develop understanding of growing the district heating sector. We have also been successful in applying for funding through the Heat Networks Investment Project (HNIP) to support the deployment of our Riverside Heat Network project. In Scotland, we’ve secured funding for our project through the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme.”

Scotland is a key region in Vattenfall Heat’s plans, and in 2020, the company set up a 50/50 partnership with Midlothian Council, benefitting from its long-term plan to invest £100 million in low carbon heating. The aim of the joint initiative, Paul explains, is to deliver district heating networks that will provide heating and hot water for the equivalent of 170,000 homes in Edinburgh and Midlothian by 2050.

Building smart and sustainable cities

The first project in the Midlothian Council and Vattenfall Heat’s partnership is the design and construction of a district heating network for Shawfair Town – a sustainable new town currently under construction. It will be located 15-minutes by train from Edinburgh city centre and is one of Scotland’s largest planning and building projects at the moment.

Shawfair Town will be a community of around 4,000 homes, with three new schools, extensive cycling and walking networks and large areas of public open space – as well as retail, business, and community facilities. It will be heated by a low carbon district heating network that will provide reliable heating and hot water at a fair price.”

The project is expected to save over 2,500 tonnes of CO2 per year – the equivalent of taking 1,200 cars off the road – by using local resources to generate more climate friendly heating.

“The district heating network will distribute 160 gigawatts of low carbon heat each year. It will partly be powered by waste heat from Millerhill Recycling and Energy Recovery Centre – a new rubbish incineration plant – and the aim is to supplement it with other local sources of waste heat, including old mine workings and sewers.”

Scotland on the road to net zero

Like the rest of the UK, Scotland is working hard on reducing its carbon emissions, and the government encourages businesses who are helping the region in the right direction – such as Vattenfall Heat.

“Scotland has set legally-binding emissions reductions targets; 50% of its energy is to be low carbon by 2030 and its energy system is to be entirely decarbonised by 2050 – and its government is actively working to accelerate progress to this cleaner and better future. As mentioned, our Shawfair project will benefit from up to £7.3 million from the Scottish Government’s Low Carbon Infrastructure Transformation Project.”

Thanks to the government’s high ambitions when it comes to reducing its CO2 footprint, Paul is optimistic about the concept spreading to more cities, and perhaps even to a national level.

“We hope the success of our district heating network at Shawfair Town will demonstrate to Scots and Brits the huge benefits of this kind of heating system. The idea is that demand will grow once people see how entire districts of towns and cities can be switched to affordable low carbon energy in one fell swoop.”

As the net zero deadline gets closer, Paul believes the need for sustainable heating will grow.

“The climate clock is ticking – we urgently need to cut emissions. Bold action is needed now to transform and futureproof our energy system to achieve the goal of net zero emissions by 2050. District heating is the enabling infrastructure needed to get there in time.”


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