A SCOTTISH island community has won a prize for its decarbonization project that's innovation has been called a "UK first".

The Iona Heat Network has been unveiled as the winner of the Social Innovation Challenge 2022 for its bid to help island residents cut their reliance on fossil fuels and address fuel poverty – which disproportionately affects the area.

To mitigate the pressures on the island’s energy supply in an environmentally friendly way, the project will extract heat from the ground and pump water through it in pipes.

While the technology is not new, using it in this decentralised network design is said to be a first in the UK - operating as a communal, low-emission, low-cost heating system for Iona.

And now the community will have £50,000 in prize money to carry out essential technical work, as well as bring in expertise to steer the project over the line to the construction phase in 2023.

The project has been in development for several years but has become increasingly relevant as the island’s exceptionally high energy costs have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and other global factors.

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said the project was a "deserved winner". 

She added: “Their innovative use of heat technology addresses carbon emissions and at a time of rising energy costs and bills, it also creates a sustainable solution to help tackle the energy issues faced by this rural community. It’s a model that can be shared across other rural areas.

“The Social Innovation Challenge is just one example of our continued support for new and emerging social entrepreneurs and growing social enterprises. It gives opportunities to all people in Scotland and plays an important role in helping us achieve our net-zero ambitions.”

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Shiona Ruhemann from Iona Renewables said: “We are absolutely delighted to have won this year’s Social Innovation Challenge. Having come all this way through sheer community commitment and determination, the island community is in sight of delivering an innovative, exemplar 'bottom-up' model for addressing the most intractable low-carbon problems on Iona and for other challenging rural settings.”