Deep Heat: Our Response to the Scottish Government’s Energy Efficiency Programme

The Scottish Government has completed their second consultation on their Local Heat & Energy Efficiency plans which set out a vision for the next 20 years in energy efficiency. Unsurprisingly, it pushes forward its flagship policy of applying district heating across all local authorities in Scotland.

The installation of district heating in our towns and cities can seem like an appealing policy. Superficially, it ticks all the boxes – decarbonisation, fuel poverty, job creation. But in reality, it is an unambitious plan which will have limited impact when compared to approaches that tackle demand reduction head on.

Heating is a key issue in tackling climate change and energy efficiency. Heating and cooling our homes and businesses accounts for around half of greenhouse gas emissions and costs us £2.6 billion a year.

As important as decarbonisation of the energy supply is, our greatest priority should be reducing the amount of energy we use in the first place. Because the greenest unit of energy is always going to be the one you don’t use.

There is another way

We propose an alternative vision that sees Scotland as a global leader in sustainability for our built environment through large scale deep retrofit of existing housing stock.

Why retrofit?

When combined with low carbon heat and renewable energy generation, deep retrofit results in a truly future-proofed building stock.

Energy Security

With vastly reduced energy demand comes a reduced strain on the energy grid during periods of high usage. This means our energy supply is more secure and occupants are less affected by, and hence vulnerable to, fluctuations in supply and price.

Retrofit a million homes and you save enough energy to close down two power stations.

Fuel Poverty

The definition of fuel poverty in Scotland is under review, but is currently defined as households in which 10% or more of  income is spent maintaining a satisfactory heating regime. Around 26.5% of Scottish households live in fuel poverty, with low income households, older people and those living with a disability or long-term illness being particularly at risk.

While district heating may reduce energy bills, deep retrofit will result in better buildings that require less energy to heat. This means occupants live in warm, comfortable, damp and mould-free houses without the financial and emotional strain of unpredictable energy bills.

Health & Wellbeing

With vastly improved air quality, better quality build and reduced fuel spending, retrofit can have a massive impact on the physical and mental health of occupants. Tenants at Dormont Park, our PassivHaus development for Dormont Estate, reported significant improvement to pre-existing health conditions. A healthier population should have a knock-on effect on productivity while also reducing pressure on NHS spending.

Economic Growth

If the Government commits to leading the way on deep retrofit, Scotland could become an international industry leader. Retrofit generates 5000 jobs for every 5000 homes built and creates opportunities for exporting goods and skills around the world.

Deep retrofit doesn’t come without challenges. When applied on a house-by-house basis, the process can be expensive and difficult to realise. But at a nation-wide scale, deep retrofit could be delivered with cheaper materials, efficient automated processes, a robust supply chain and a highly skilled workforce. A national scheme for deep retrofit may cost more than a district heating scheme in the short term but the long-term benefits to the population, the environment and our housing stock are so significant that to dismiss deep retrofit on cost is short-sighted. It succeeds when we aim to work collaboratively and share knowledge to improve performance and speed-up delivery.

What is retrofit?

Deep retrofit is a whole-house approach to drastically reduce energy demand in buildings. The measures should include a highly insulated and airtight building envelope with efficient ventilation systems which provide a warm and healthy indoor climate which is extremely affordable to heat.

Retrofit in Action

Large scale deep retrofit is only at the start of its journey, but there are plenty of examples of deep retrofits for us to take inspiration from.

Cedar Court, Glasgow

The most significant retrofit close to home is the Cedar Court retrofit in the Woodside area of Glasgow, designed by Collective Architecture. The 3 high rise social housing buildings are part of a regeneration scheme which will achieve close to PassivHaus levels of heat demand.


Energiesprong is an initiative set up in the Netherlands to deliver deep retrofits which only take 2 weeks to install, guarantee net zero energy and don’t cost anything more for the occupants. So far 1,300 homes in the Netherlands have been retrofitted and there are plans for a further 15,000. The approach is being widely recognised as the ultimate goal for retrofit and the first development of 10 EnergieSprong retrofits has been delivered in Nottingham.

We see a lot of potential in this approach and believe it could be key in delivering retrofit at scale. Wouldn’t you like to live in a warm and comfortable home that doesn’t cost you any more than what you pay at the moment for energy?

EnergieSpring Retrofit

So – District Heating?

The Scottish Government’s plans for district heating will make it look as if they are achieving energy efficiency targets and will certainly give the energy companies plenty to celebrate, but the people who live and work in these buildings will receive limited benefit.

We argue that any real attempt to tackle climate change and energy efficiency must have the needs of the end user in mind. This requires that we focus first on reducing energy demand then look to low carbon supply of heat, placing deep retrofit as a priority over district heating.

The best way to predict your future is to create it

Scotland is an innovative and forward-thinking nation. Deep retrofit represents a significant opportunity which cannot and should not be ignored. To meet policy targets for the next 20 years, and beyond to 2050, action must be taken now to enable deep retrofit at scale.

But more than that. Isn’t it a better aspiration to deliver social justice hand in hand with our energy policy than to create more large-scale infrastructure projects that lock us in to future unsustainability? Don’t the Scots deserve and need warm, healthy homes that are affordable to heat and run long into the future?

We think so!

Let us know what you think in the comments below.