Scottish Government is turning up the heat on emissions from buildings - Chala McKenna

With the vast majority of Scottish householders using gas to heat their homes, the environmental impact caused by domestic heating is a key contributor to overall carbon emissions. At present only 11 per cent of households in Scotland use low emission heating systems such as heat pumps and biomass boilers but new proposals from the Scottish Government aim to change that.

Chala McKenna ia an Associate and Accredited Environmental Law Specialist at Davidson Chalmers Stewart
Chala McKenna ia an Associate and Accredited Environmental Law Specialist at Davidson Chalmers Stewart

Change is certainly needed: according to the Scottish Government, our homes and workplaces account for around a fifth of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions. These figures are supported by the UK body Institute for Government in last year’s Decarbonising Heating at Home report which highlighted that domestic heating accounts for around 14 per cent of UK emissions. The report, focused on decarbonising the way our homes are heated through efficient building practices and the electrification of most heating systems, believed this would cost the UK an estimated £200bn over the next 30 years.

The Scottish Government has now launched its Heat in Buildings Strategy which envisages addressing this challenge by heating Scotland’s buildings in a more environmentally sustainable manner. The strategy sets out a pathway towards decarbonisation through cleaner and greener buildings as we move away from burning fossil fuels for heating towards net zero emissions by 2045.

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The strategy contains a number of key proposals including the New Build Heat Standard, one of the Scottish Government’s flagship policies. It’s based on the concept that new builds should lead the way to achieving emission reduction targets by avoiding production of further greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the need for disruptive and expensive future retrofits. From 2024, all new builds for which a building warrant is applied for (including non-domestic buildings where technically feasible) will be required to use heating and cooling systems which produce zero direct emissions at the point of use.

It is however not currently clear how technical feasibility will be assessed, although the Scottish Government has just launched the second part of a consultation on the New Build Heat Standard which sets out how they intend to regulate to prohibit the use of direct emissions heating systems in new buildings. This should provide further opportunity for interested parties to input on the development of the legislation.

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Other key aspects of the Heat in Buildings Strategy include more controversial proposals to introduce legislation requiring all owner-occupied homes to achieve a minimum band C Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating by 2035, with the ultimate aim for all buildings to have zero emissions heating systems installed by 2045. The trigger point to meet the legally binding standard will be major renovation or when the property is to be sold, at which point the homeowner will be required to carry out an assessment and incur any associated costs.

Stricter minimum energy efficiency standards are proposed for social housing, with properties having to achieve EPC band B or be as energy efficient as practicably possible within the limits of cost technology and necessary consent by 2032. Private rented sector properties will need to meet EPC C by 2025 where technically feasible and cost effective with a backstop of 2028 for all remaining properties.

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Gas boilers will also be phased out from 2025 when they will no longer be allowed to be installed in new builds. From 2035, households with existing gas boilers which break down will need to replace these with a low carbon alternative.

There are significant long-term environmental and cost benefits in transforming domestic heating, but this is likely to be an initially disruptive and expensive process, especially for owner-occupiers with older, less energy efficient homes. While the Scottish Government has pledged £1.8bn to help the most vulnerable meet these new home heating standards, the Heat in Buildings Strategy indicates that additional funding will be required and that the targets cannot be met by public funding alone. Investment in training to support the installation and maintenance of the new technologies required for greener energy systems will also be essential.

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To support its ambitious plans, the Scottish Government has committed to wider public engagement to increase awareness and understanding of the changes and why they are needed. Getting this right is likely to be the key factor in achieving its aim of significantly cutting home heat emissions.

Chala McKenna ia an Associate and Accredited Environmental Law Specialist at Davidson Chalmers Stewart

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