SCOTLAND is trying to make housing greener.

We are first in the UK, which means we are also first to hit the considerable problems associated with change.

So, the media is full of dates, housing types, deadlines and panicky phone-ins about the likely cost of heat pumps. Is this the best way to embark on a massive transformation?

Or could councils and the Scottish Government learn lessons from the countries that are ahead of us? Specifically, Denmark.

There are a couple of big lessons from a country where 80% of homes are heated by collective, council-supplied, renewably-powered district heating.

By the way, 85% of Scottish homes are heated by gas.

The first lesson is that neatly-stacked tenemental cities across northern Europe use collective district heating schemes – not individual boilers or even modern heat pumps.

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Rural areas in Denmark also have mini “heat networks” – taking surplus heat from industrial users and circulating hot water to neighbouring homes. The Norwegian city of Drammen uses pioneering Scottish technology to take heat from seawater for its district heating scheme.

In short, district heating with piped hot water heating homes is as normal in northern Europe as mains water.

In Sweden, 92 councils have local energy companies which create circular economies by using the waste they collect (and can’t recycle) to incinerate for heat. The main by-product of this is water vapour. It helps massively, that truly local councils knit these systems together, while Scotland has the largest “local” councils in the developed world, outside South Korea.

But peace. We are where we are.

And whilst genuinely local control is pivotal to Scotland’s entire future, we must work now with what we’ve got. The puzzle is that Green ministers talk so much about heat pumps and so little about district heating. What is the problem?

According to a councillor from one of Scotland’s big cities, one big problem is council culture.

Councils have to draw up Local Energy Efficiency Strategies by March and are zoning cities for different technologies and creating a sequence for action. Which sounds fine. But many are not co-designing that with Scandinavian experts, because of fears that co-designing with Vattenfall, for example, will break procurement rules if the firm later gets the contract to deliver the system.

Believing they can’t talk to private companies, many councils are drawing up plans for district heating schemes right now, without the in-house expertise to design or deliver them. The Scottish Government could “pre-accredit” certain firms as suitable for talks and unlikely to rip off council clients. Such a shortcut should be created fast.

Of course, due process matters – but really?

The deeply-held belief that public bodies must own the entire design process has contributed to the ferry debacle, where CalMac believes it must design ferries, then find shipyards to deliver, while the state ferry companies of other countries examine “off-the-peg” designs from different yards and then pick the best. That way, expertise is built in at the design stage.

But some of Scotland’s public bodies are like secretive bairns in class, guarding their work jealously lest anyone see, adapt or copy it. The result is too often a limited pool of advice, expertise and confidence.

Meanwhile, councils must report on different and sometimes conflicting targets. Whilst everything must reach net zero by 2045, council buildings (though not housing) must hit that target by 2038.

At present emissions from council and housing association homes aren’t collected or reported so who knows what is working well? And because electricity prices are based on gas prices (thanks Westminster) the cost of converting from gas to electric systems is prohibitive. It’s cluttered, complex and difficult for councillors to navigate and stress on a stick for the public.

All of which leads to the second lesson from Denmark – how to sell massive change in the way we heat our homes.

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Yes, many folk are motivated by averting climate change. But even amongst the go-ahead Danes, bigger motivations have been keeping families and society afloat.

So says Søren Hermansen of the pioneering Energy Academy on the Danish island of Samsø.

This tiny farming island off Jutland has 3700 residents and an island council whose local power underpins the story that follows.

With the closure of a local abattoir threatening the future of livestock farming in the 1990s, locals knew they needed new industry to prevent depopulation. That was the local “pull”. A visionary Social Democrat environment minister, Svend Auken, supplied the national “push”, when he signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 – the first big international agreement to lower greenhouse gases. Auken announced he would find a place in Denmark to become the first model community in the green transition. Samsø won that competition.

But the struggle to deliver “mental ownership” of the project had just begun and hinged on making every green move tick every one of the islanders’ boxes.

Top came lower heating costs (perhaps in the medium term but with target dates specified); energy security (home-made energy prices can’t be doubled arbitrarily by wars or bad Westminster decisions); and a believable promise of new local jobs to let people keep living where they wanted to live. For Scotland we would add a further shameful criterion, staying alive.

In short, creating and maintaining a healthy local society was the top reason Samsø people embraced change. Green technology was just a tool to achieve that and green outcomes a happy by-product.

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As Hermansen puts it: “People looked at this crazy hippie-city, Copenhagen, top-down project, and saw it as a way to help people get new jobs and stay on the island.

“So our invitation for people was to say, let’s look into the green transition and see if we can replace what we’ve lost in the historical evolution of industry.”

And that canny, ultra-local, pragmatic approach meant the green transition on Samsø worked because it became a stunning way to solve local problems – not a big green burden.

After islanders complained about the roads being dug up to install new district heating pipes, the Energy Academy persuaded the water company to upgrade its pipes, the broadband company to go fibre optic and the electricity company to underground its cables.

That meant the costs of laying district heating pipes were shared and more than halved. And roads were dug up just once. It was a masterstroke of pragmatism and persuasion.

That meant there was sign-up by local people. That meant four district heating plants were built by local builders with straw contracts with 20 local farmers.

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The incinerator design was made low-tech enough to be fixable by local plumbers.

Local businesses found they could budget, expand and plan because they effectively co-owned their own heating supply.

And last year Samsø lowered its district heating prices, while prices in Britain trebled.

Oh yes, and by adding only water vapour to the atmosphere with virtually zero carbon transport costs, 80% of Samsø homes are now net zero, while the ash spread back on the fields helps create a circular eco-economy.

These were only possible because the public’s “non-green” priorities had been thoroughly examined and fully addressed.

Can we say the same? I’d humbly suggest that right now, the average Scot feels no “mental ownership” of our green transition.

And that must change.

Screening details for Lesley’s latest film – Denmark; the State of Happiness will appear on and the film will go online afterwards in March