Can urban green spaces fuel low carbon heating?

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Published: 02 September 2020


Saughton Park in Edinburgh is the first ‘Low Carbon Park’ in Scotland due to its adoption of low carbon heating solutions using ground source heat pumps Saughton Park in Edinburgh is the first ‘Low Carbon Park’ in Scotland due to its adoption of low carbon heating solutions using ground source heat pumps

A new research project will explore how to transform Scotland's urban landscapes by using heat pumps to support a low carbon future.

Green Heat in Greenspaces (GHiGs) builds on greenspace scotland’s ParkPower project, bringing together half of Scotland’s councils with a wide range of public sector bodies to explore how urban green spaces can support a Scottish low carbon heat transition.

As elsewhere, Scotland is facing a major challenge to reduce its dependence on carbon-rich fossil fuels to heat its homes and businesses. For decades it has relied largely on a centralised mains gas grid to meet the needs of approximately 80% of its households.

As a consequence, the supply of heat has become the single biggest source of carbon emissions. Scotland is poised to miss its 2020 government target for supplying 11% of heat demand from low carbon sources; with estimates suggesting it is stuck nearer 6%, making future targets even more challenging. 

John Maslen, greenspace scotland’s ParkPower programme manager, said:  “To have any chance of achieving our world-leading decarbonisation ambitions Scotland needs to surge up the low carbon heat league table of European nations to escape its current position in the relegation zone. Climate scientists and the Scottish Government appear to be on the same page - heat needs a radical overhaul. The big unanswered question is “how?” We believe that generating heat from urban greenspace using heat pumps and supplying this to buildings through a network of pipes has a key part to play in any solution.”

The use of heat pumps to take heat from the ground, from water sources or from the air is a well-worn ‘pathway’ in countries like Sweden and Austria where installations are widespread.

According to greenspace scotland, the viability of heat schemes is optimised by generating heat in close proximity to where it is needed. Heat demand is highest within our urban centres, where space is at a premium.

Green Heat in Greenspaces or “GHiGs” will explore how areas of green space across Scotland can contribute to transforming the urban landscape of the future to one based on low carbon heat. This is the first time Ordnance Survey’s most detailed mapping of urban green spaces has been used to assess the heat potential of specific sites. Already this data has highlighted the true scale of the opportunity: far from being dominated by grey space, analysis shows our cities to be largely green, with coverage at over 60% in cities like Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

The project is led by greenspace scotland as part of its ongoing ParkPower programme and will be supported by low carbon energy specialists Ramboll. 

Paul Steen, head of the energy team at Ramboll said: “Our work on the ParkPower programme to date clearly demonstrates that urban greenspace can play a critical enabling role in the generation and transmission of low carbon heat. The GHiGs project will allow us to explore its full potential Scotland-wide, short-list candidate sites and feed evidence into wider strategic energy planning.”

GHiGs has secured support from a wide range of partners across the public and third sectors including half of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, Improvement Service, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Enterprise, NHS Scotland, Scottish Land Commission, Architecture & Design Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, sportscotland, Strathclyde University and Zero Waste Scotland. GB-wide organisations like the British Geological Survey and Ordnance Survey are also contributing specialist expertise.

Julie Procter, Chief Executive, greenspace scotland said: "This exciting project will allow us to evaluate the scale of contribution that Scotland’s green spaces can make towards our low carbon heat transition. The number and range of partners involved in GHiGs demonstrates the widespread interest across the public sector in optimising use of their land assets to address decarbonisation objectives. It is imperative we find a way to balance the potential value of these sites as community-scale boilers with their equally vital roles in supporting our health, amenity and education.”