Clean Heat Edinburgh Forum

Cleaner, greener heating for our city

The ambition

There is a vision of a city wide heat network. There are, and will be more, smaller local clusters. These will need to be joined together.  The map below shows what this vision looked like a few years ago. The Clean Heat Forum will monitor progress towards a city wide network.

The North Edinburgh Clean Heat project will have work in progress by the end of 2025. This will be a district heating scheme, with heat pumps to use the Forth as the heat source.


Decarbonised heat so contributing to Edinburgh’s Zero Carbon by 2030 target

Cleaner air in locality as no burning fossil fuel

Heat as a service, easier/less maintenance etc for the purchasers of heat.

Potential to alleviate fuel poverty.

Provision of skilled green jobs.

Potential for community benefit

Demonstration project to share success and learning.

More information

District Heating

Strategy to move cities to net zero:

This Briefing introduces the concept of District Heating from non-fossil heat sources.  

Most homes and offices in the city are heated by boilers using natural gas and this is increasingly problematic with costs rising rapidly and disruption caused to the climate.

Why change? 

We must create a world beyond gas boilers.  Burning fossil fuels, like gas, is a cause of climate change.  People talk of decarbonising heat by using electricity more. 

Renewable electricity does not increase the risk of climate change but electric heating can be expensive.  Too many people are in fuel poverty, so any changes need to reduce the impact of fuel bills as much as possible. This is not easy when globally fuel prices are rising dramatically.

Some of the options:  

Retrofits and building upgrades to reduce the energy demand altogether should be the priority.  People are then looking at a range of sources of heat and of ways to distribute it to buildings.

Individual Heat Pumps may be the future but installing one can be disruptive as well as costly.

Heat pumps work a bit like fridges but instead of pushing out heat when cooling the fridge they cool their surroundings when heating something, usually either air or water.  A well designed heat pump can be efficient and give more heat per unit of electricity than an electric heater.  

Where can heat come from?  

The sun provides heat which can be used directly to heat water but the energy is more often used to generate electricity using photovoltaic solar panels. 

Heat pumps can use heat from the air, ground, or water, for example from the Forth estuary. 

Heat that is often currently wasted or not utilised – from sewage, from industry, from warming buildings, from old mine workings – could be captured for use via heat networks. 

Value of heat networks  

We are used to our utilities providing gas and electricity directly to our buildings and charging for our use.  It is hard, if not impossible, to see how individual users could tap into some of these other sources of heat.  Heat networks are a way of providing and distributing heat. 

The vision is of an extensive system of pipes throughout the city, connected to energy centres. This would be a communal, community system. There are some examples of heat networks already functioning. 

Existing heat networks 

The University of Edinburgh has schemes at George Square, King’s Buildings, Pollock Halls and the Pleasance as well as at Easter Bush in Midlothian.  The Western General has a system, somewhat in need of updating, which is being looked at as part of a bigger scheme which could serve Granton and North Edinburgh Arts. This is expected to include use of heat from sewage. 

Although new buildings are now so energy efficient that they need little heat there are plans to include heat networks as part of the developments at Granton Western Villages and at Shawfair because it is easier to create the infrastructure as part of a new build project than to connect to existing buildings. 

There is huge potential to use heat networks to provide heat efficiently to flats and tenements. The Scottish government is asking local authorities to identify heat network zones by the end of 2023.  Edinburgh hopes to have identified such zones by the end of 2022.

Heat networks will be part of a holistic energy system. A high priority will be to reduce demand for heat. The efficiency of networks can contribute to this. Retrofitting all buildings to improve insulation and upgrading heating systems are essential components of measures to use our resources better and cut our carbon emissions.

Pros, cons and accountability 

Building a city wide heat network will be a huge and expensive development. Current discussions suggest that a partnership between the City of Edinburgh Council and a private company is probable.  Agreement will need to be reached to ensure that any scheme is cost effective, makes the best use possible of decarbonised heat sources and takes reducing fuel poverty into account.

Benefits to customers should include having no responsibility for maintenance of individual  boilers, lower fire risks as no in-building burner  and potentially efficiency savings. However development will cause disruption as pipe lines are established. The communal nature of the network may be felt to reduce personal household autonomy.   

If the network is a public private project decisions will need to be made about accountability to the city as an entity and for providing the expected level of service to customers. 

If the city becomes part of an energy ‘heat as a service’ provider there will be issues of accountability on level of charging and use of any profits made.  We need robust customer protection schemes and regulations that are being developed by Ofgem.  

Opportunities for residents as individuals and communities could have options for contributing financial capital to such a scheme and so becoming ‘owners’ who share in any profits and may be involved in creating community benefits.

Please discuss these potential changes. 

  • Would you like to buy ‘heat’ from a provider?  
  • Should the City Council or the ESCo Energy for Edinburgh be part of this new system? 

 Send any comments to Clean Heat Edinburgh Forum at

This briefing is available at  You can also contact us via 07743 759 528