THE Scottish Government is being urged to mirror the success of countries such as Denmark and reconsider its approach to the commissioning, design and implementation of district heating systems (DHS), or heat networks.

A study published today by the “think and do tank” Common Weal suggests the work would be within the scope of currently devolved powers, along with the development of its favoured National Energy Company (NEC). The paper suggests the NEC would work with a Scottish Energy Development Agency (SEDA) and a public National Energy Service (NES) to maximise the benefits of investment in new DHS projects.

In their study, Dr Keith Baker and Dr Ron Mould point to the success of Denmark in the development of successful and sustainable DHS and heat networks.

They say evidence shows that using multi-technology approaches – particularly those combining large-scale solar thermal with sustainable biomass and inter-seasonal heat storage and recovery technologies – must become a central theme in the future development of DHS in Scotland.

“However, sadly, such thinking currently appears to be completely beyond the Scottish’s Government,” they add.

DHS schemes are networks of insulated pipes that supply heat, usually in the form of steam or hot water, from one or more central sources to homes and buildings within a local area.

The idea behind them is not new – town gas networks for street lighting were installed in Edinburgh and Glasgow in the early 1800s and Denmark’s first district heating power plant opened a century later – but Baker and Mould want to see multi-technology approaches to their development and deployment that would deliver a Scottish DHS revolution.

Mould told the Sunday National that DHS had great potential: “District heating has the potential to offer affordable low-carbon heating to homes and buildings.

“The Scottish Government has recognised this by putting policies in place with ambitious targets. However, district heating in Scotland has not always been successful.

“This report is built on research on district heating and fuel poverty and pulls in expertise from a range of colleagues to highlight that there are experiences in Scotland, the UK and further afield, for example Denmark, from which we can learn.

“Our aim in this report is to provide an informed commentary on how we can do things better and the potential that new developments such as the publicly-owned energy company can bring.

“Through this we hope to encourage debate on the future we can build.”

Baker added: “Developing district heating requires long-term strategic planning and investment, something Common Weal previously argued for in our proposals for the National Energy Company and a Strategic Energy Development Agency.’’

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “The premise of the criticism is incorrect. We have looked extensively at successful policies and programmes from our neighbouring European countries to learn lessons and to inform our approach – including through a memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Denmark and subsequent engagement at official level.

‘‘However, despite that valuable work, and having worked with a special working group to take that learning forward in designing a framework for Scotland, it is also important that the approach we implement is tailored to meet the distinct needs of communities.

“We have taken a leading position within the UK in supporting the deployment of heat networks over a number of years – including through our District Heating Loan Fund, our Low-Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme and the Heat Network Partnership.

“We have also consulted widely on proposals that would make use of our devolved powers to create a framework for regulation that will support heat network development by providing certainty to investors and consumers through appropriate licensing and risk reduction.

“These proposals will be refined through our ongoing consultation and in collaboration with stakeholders.”