Three ways to make our buildings fit for the future

  • 28 Aug 2020
  • Green recovery

By Amelia Guy-Meakin, Scotland COP26 Coordinator, WWF

Heating our homes, offices and other buildings accounts for a quarter of Scotland’s climate emissions. Why? Because many of our buildings aren’t energy efficient and the vast majority today are heated using fossil fuels – either fossil gas for those on the mains network or coal, oil and liquified petroleum gas for those off it (usually in rural areas). 

We need to find cleaner and renewable ways to keep our buildings warm. Scotland can’t get to net zero emissions otherwise.  

To meet Scotland’s climate targets, we will need to improve our buildings at some stage, and it makes sense to start as quickly as possible for our economy, people and planet. If we do this now, we will avoid costly and inefficient retrofitting in the future. The Scottish Government has many of the levers it needs to take action, and investing in our homes and workplaces will achieve multiple wins. It will create jobs and skills at pace and over time across the country, keep us warmer and healthier, and lower heating bills – for our vulnerable communities and so we can spend our money on other things. 

There are three key solutions to clean up our buildings: 

  1. Energy efficiency 

Lots of heat is lost from our buildings, which comes at a cost to us and the climate. The solution is to make our existing and new buildings energy efficient. This means stopping energy leaking from our buildings by insulating roofs, walls and floors, and improving the glazing of our windows. 

  1. Heat networks

Heat networks are a flexible and efficient way to heat our cities compared with the individual fossil fuel boilers in our buildings. They work by using a single, large source of renewable heat to carry hot water via pipes in the ground to buildings. And they can be run using a number of green heat sources, such as heat from waste (including electric substations or the subway), geothermal energy, and even rivers. It’s no surprise why heat networks are common in Scandinavia! 

  1. Electric heat pumps

Heat networks won’t be economically viable for some suburban or rural areas, and in these instances, the best solution for making our buildings warm and cosy will likely be the installation of electric heat pumps. They take a small amount of power to extract heat from the air, ground or water. It’s the same system that cools our fridges, only in reverse! Electric heat pumps are highly efficient and make the best use of Scotland’s abundant renewable resources. While only 6% of Scotland’s heating today comes from renewable sources, heat pumps can change that and help end our reliance on polluting fossil fuels, and their volatile prices.

We need the Government to use policies and funding to improve our buildings at scale by:

  • introducing minimum energy standards (from 2024) for any home being rented or sold, with incentives to help householders meet the costs of insulation, and for all homes in Scotland to reach at least Energy Performance ‘C’ by 2030.
  • phasing out the dirtiest forms of heating (such as oil and liquified petroleum gas) in areas off the gas grid by 2025. Householders should be supported to install heat pumps instead.
  • setting an end-date for the last installation of new gas boilers in homes on the gas grid. 
  • ensuring new homes are built to the highest energy efficiency standards and are low carbon. The Scottish Government will require all new homes to use low carbon heating from 2024, but that date should be brought forward so we don’t need to retrofit the buildings being built now to reach net zero.