Expert report on district heating regulation

24 March 2016 

An expert panel has made recommendations to the Scottish Government on the regulatory framework for district heating. The District Heating Expert Commission's Special Working Group argues that a variety of forms of regulation could both support the growth of heat networks and ensure fair customer protection. The areas they identify are

  • long-term strategic plans, 
  • national standards for socio-economic cost-benefit analysis, 
  • increased availability of anchor loads, 
  • defined technical standards, 
  • clear enabling powers for infrastructure, 
  • increased access to waste heat, and 
  • effective customer protection.

The Special Working Group argues that while supportive regulation in each area would enhance the district heating market, their value would be greater in combination.

The Heat and the City team made important contributions to the Special Working Group's deliberations. Jan Webb and Ruth Bush acted as technical advisors, and the team contributed a report outlining a range of regulatory options which formed the basis for the working group's discussion. The report drew on our international comparative research to discuss aspects of regulatory regimes for district heating elsewhere in Europe.

New book out now!

Sustainable Urban Energy Policy: Heat and the city is now in print (see here). Sustainable Urban Energy Policy debates the major public issue of developing a sustainable, clean and affordable energy system by adopting a distinctive focus on heating in cities. In this way, the book constructs an original account of clean energy policy, politics and provision, grounded in new empirical data derived from case studies of urban and multi-level governance of sustainable heat and energy saving in the UK and Europe. Offering an original conceptual framework, this study builds on socio-technical studies, economic and urban sociology, human geography, applied economics and policy studies in order to understand energy governance and systemic change in energy provisions.

David Hawkey, Janette Webb, Heather Lovell, David McCrone, Margaret Tingey and Mark Winskel (2016) Sustainable Urban Energy Policy: Heat and the city. Abingdon: Routledge

Chapter Outline:

PART I Overview

1. Introduction

2. Social studies of technology, energy systems and modern societies

PART II Policy and Politics for Sustainable Heat

3. European heat policies and practices

4. From optimisation to diversity: changing scenarios of heating for buildings in the UK

5. Implementation of district heating policy in the UK

PART III Cities and Urban Centres: Resources, Expertise and Sustainability Challenges

6. Business models for district heating networks: economics, finance and risk

7. Urban energy governance for sustainable heat in UK cities: expectations, practices and potential

8. Assessing Local Government engagement in energy systems development in the UK and its likely trajectories

PART IV Affordable and Sustainable Warmth for Housing

9. Paying for energy: understandings of home, well-being and affordable warmth

10. The surprising outcomes of UK energy and climate policy: zero carbon housing targets and the emerging opportunities for district heating

PART V Conclusion

11. Solutions? Cities and carbon innovation: coordination for sustainable heat.

Heat and the City represented at UK Heat 2014 Conference, London

Jan Webb joined a panel of speakers discussing the coordination of international to local scales of regulatory action and incentives for clean, affordable heat. The conference was co-hosted by the UK Combined Heat and Power Association and the Energy Institute; presentations are available at and the proceedings of the day are captured on Storify at

Heat and the City autumn academic workshop

Many thanks to all of the contributors for lively and wide-ranging discussions! Presentations from the Workshop now available at ./?a=163041 

Research Findings on Sustainable Heating Provisions and Cities: Theory, Practice and Future Implications

We are very excited about the strong line up of speakers we have arranged for our (by invitation) workshop later this year. The core aim of the Workshop is to examine the current state of social science knowledge about processes of establishing sustainable heating provisions in cities.

The Workshop, which is by invitation, brings together speakers and discussants from different disciplines and sectors. We aim to inform debate about, and improve understanding of, the socio-technical opportunities for and constraints on change in heat provision as a major component of European sustainable energy systems.

The Workshop focuses not on what the future configuration of heating technologies and resources should be – we already have many theories, models and policy scenarios about that – but on what is, and isn’t, being done where, by whom, how and why. We will explore what needs to change in order to improve prospects for urban sustainable heat provisions, and what, if anything, is missing from or defective in existing policy approaches and technical- economic scenarios.

The workshop will be structured around three core questions:

  1. What kinds of sustainable heat provisions are being developed in urban settings; what forms of capacity and expertise are being invested in these, and what are the societal implications of different trajectories?
  2. European technical and economic evaluations of urban sustainable heat provisions frequently advocate district heating networks, and combined heat and power. How do the coordination requirements of heat networks shape developments, and with what outcomes?
  3. Is the municipal scale effective in meeting long-term requirements of urban sustainable heat planning, financial commitment, and trust? Are city councils critical leaders and intermediaries in practical development or not?

For more information on the workshop, please contact

Pilot study on local engagement with energy systems complete

Working with the Energy Technologies Institute, Mags Tingey, Dave Hawkey and Jan Webb have completed a pilot study exploring local engagement with energy systems. The work, an extension of the Heat and the City project, examined levels of local engagement across all 434 of the UK's local authority areas, and drew together a wide array of datasets with original collation of data.  Findings show that almost one third (30%) of the UK’s 434 local authorities are actively planning, and investing in, energy productivity and provision. Most of this activity is on a limited scale with only 9% of UK authorities showing evidence of significant numbers of energy project investments. We characterised this 9% as "Energy Leaders" and found they displayed multiple routes into engagement, including economic regeneration, housing upgrades and affordable warmth, energy productivity, avoided costs of alternatives and environmental protection. Particular regions of the show considerably higher levels of local authority engagement, notably London, Scotland, and Yorkshire and Humber, and energy leaders tend to be metropolitan and larger authorities.

Preliminary exploration of the relationship between local authority engagement and levels of low carbon technology deployment (not restricted to local authorities’ own deployment) shows strong association with non-industrial Combined Heat and Power (CHP). Relationships between engagement and small (under 10MW) renewable electricity generation appears marginally significant.  “Levelling up” deployment of non-industrial CHP across all areas to the levels of the most engaged authorities would imply significant acceleration in deployment rates. The limited pilot research modelling suggests that the impact of this is small (under 10%) in terms of the UK energy production. The headlines report can be found here.

We are pleased to announce we will be undertaking follow on work from October 2014 with funding from the Energy Technologies Institute and UK Energy Research Centre. This work will use qualitative data gathering to explore some of the quantitative relations our pilot work uncovered, in order to build a better picture of the factors supporting and constraining local engagement with energy. We will also engage with UK energy system modelling to help form a clearer picture of the contribution and impact local energy could realistically have in future.

Heat and the City give evidence to UK Parliament Select Committee

Following submission of our written evidence to the UK Parliament Energy and Climate Change Committee's Call for Evidence on Heat, Dave Hawkey was invited to give oral evidence to the committee on a panel with Scotia Gas Networks, the Combined Heat and Power Association, and the UK District Energy Association. The committee was particularly interested to hear what the elements of a strategic approach to heat are, and what the role for government could be. All members of the panel agreed that a strategic approach to heat must be embedded in a wider strategic approach to energy given the potential for considerable interactions. Examples from other countries where state actors have played a greater role in coordination of district heating systems on the basis of the wider energy system benefits they create were also suggested by Dave Hawkey as interesting examples, showing a that options for state involvement are more nuanced than the dichotomy of market- and state-led coordination implies. The Norwegian licensing system is one such example. Video of the session can be found here and an uncorrected transcript here.

Aberdeen Heat and Power becomes the first British company to win a Global District Energy Climate Award.

Aberdeen Heat and Power (AHP), set up by Aberdeen City Council in 2002, was awarded the prestigious international Global District Energy Award of Excellence for Small and Medium Companies, at an event in New York this week. It is one of only a few European businesses to have achieved such recognition. AHP is a locally-controlled non-profit company; it has supplied low-carbon, affordable warmth to the residents and businesses of Aberdeen – including council tenants and private householders in multi-storey flats, sheltered housing complexes and public buildings – for the past 11 years. The business is preparing to launch a subsidiary company, District Energy Aberdeen Limited (DEAL) which will target the commercial sector, increasing its reach and bringing in more funds to enable it to further develop the district heating network in the city. The development of AHP is the subject of ongoing research with the Heat and the City team, and Jan Webb recently gave a talk on its history and trajectory at the international workshop in Paris, hosted by Laboratoire Techniques, Territoires et Societes, Universite Paris-Est.  


Heat and the City responds to Energy and Climate Change Committee on Local Energy

April 2013: The UK Parliament Energy and Climate Change Committee issued Call for Evidence on Local Energy in the UK, focusing particularly on technologies in the 5-50MW range. Heat and the City submitted a response focused on heat infrastructure as a means of enabling the use of various heat sources (either new generators or heat which is currently wasted) above the individual-building scale. The response (which can be found here) focuses on: the need to future proofing developments to ensure larger, more flexible networks can be developed in future; some of the financing challenges facing district heating; the central role of local government in strategic development of local energy systems, and the capacity needs that implies; and the multiple departments and agencies whose policies and actions affect district heating.

District Energy Vanguards Review DECC Heat Policy Proposals

The Heat and the City research team held a third knowledge exchange event, co-organised with practitioner partner Michael King of District Energy Developments, in Sheffield Town Hall on Friday 15th February 2013. The UK Government will publish its Heat Strategy in March 2013, and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) wished to test proposals on district heating with local authority members of the Vanguards Network.

The Workshop attracted 60 delegates representing 32 local authorities, UK and Scottish government officers, and related public and private agencies, and gave network members advance notice of heat strategy proposals, and the opportunity to influence the final shape of policies. We reviewed proposals relating to identifying district energy opportunities, providing an advisory service, finance, technical standards, customer protection and model contracts.

For more information (including presentations) please see the workshop summary page. The workshop report can be downloaded directly here

Scottish Energy and Environment Conference 2013  

Jan Webb joined other speakers to address the annual practitioner conference on energy and carbon saving in public and commercial sectors, held at Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh in February. The theme of the conference was leadership in demanding economic circumstances. She presented findings from Heat and the City research to show the range of business models being developed for local energy services in UK cities. She argued that there is an opportunity to create a more resilient energy system through investment in district energy, with benefits for society, environment and economy. In order to realise that opportunity, we need leadership by example: serving long term public interests, open to learning from evidence, willing to challenge the norms of ‘business as usual’, and committed to getting on with the work.

Advisory Board Discusses Householders' Experiences of Retrofitting District Heating in Glasgow Multi-Storey Flats

On 12 December, representatives of Scottish central and local government, industry and third sector  met with the research team to discuss early findings from our first stage survey of householder experiences of retrofitting district heating in the 1970s multi-storey blocks and maisonettes at Wyndford, Maryhill, Glasgow. Cube Housing Association have invested in replacement of the original electric storage heaters with central heating driven from a gas Combined Heat and Power generator located on the estate. Community Energy Saving Programme finance has also enabled better insulation for some of the tower blocks to create warmer homes and reduce energy consumption. We spoke to 154 people (a 10% sample) living in every type of house across the estate. Most were satisfied with their house, and felt safe there, but they were dissatisfied with the old electric heating, which they found to be expensive and ineffective. The most common way of coping with a cold home was to wear outdoor clothes inside, and go to bed early. People rationed their use of heating and cut down on other spending to pay for electricity. On a range of measures, fuel poverty was prevalent, with 90% apparently spending more than 10% of their income on fuel bills. Those on the lowest incomes (less than £5000pa) were spending more than 20% of income on energy. Three quarters of the sample nevertheless felt that they managed to get by financially. Many suffered health problems, with over half reporting a longstanding illness or disability, and almost two thirds taking prescribed medicines. Not surprisingly, and despite the disruption, most were keen on the new district heating. Above all, they said, increased warmth matters (69%) followed by cheaper heating (26%). Views on whether the new heating will be cheaper are however divided, with over a third expecting it to cost more, 30% expecting it to cost less, and the rest believing it will work out about the same. We look forward to meeting people again in a year's time to find out whether it is in fact warmer, what it is costing and whether there is a measurable impact on health and well-being. Copies of the full Briefing, with provisional findings, are available on request to our admin officer.

Lund University International Urban Arena: Urban Visions and Challenges

Jan Webb joined European academics and experts in urban governance and planning at the November 2012 launch of Lund University's Urban Arena. The Oresund region plans to be a forerunner in sustainable urban development, building knowledge through collaboration between academics, policy makers and practitioners. Jan presented preliminary research findings from Heat and the City to illustrate the range of UK business and governance models used in developing local energy provision. The work shows the importance of urban and regional leadership for low carbon innovation throughout Europe. Presentations and further details are on the Urban Arena web site.

Scottish Government Expert Commission on District Heating Reports on Findings and Recommendations

The Commission's report was published by Scottish Government on 15 November 2012. In line with the remit to stimulate a step change in delivery of district heating, our Report focuses on proposed actions, including, for example, using planning powers to promote development, creating requirements for public sector buildings to connect to available heat networks, developing better shared knowledge about costs and benefits, establishing standard legal and contractual templates, and so on.

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said:

“I appointed an Expert Commission on District Heating, and welcome its series of recommendations, published today, on how we can help more people reduce their fuel bills by connecting to district heating across Scotland.  I will consider these recommendations, and what I can do to put them into practice.”

This Government is committed to supporting the development of low carbon district heating networks in Scotland, helping homes and businesses access lower-cost and greener methods of heating... I want to help build partnerships with the private sector, local government and communities to help us make the shift towards district heating, particularly in our cities. The Scottish Government’s Renewable Energy Investment Fund and Warm Homes fund have made district heating a funding priority.”

Yesterday, First Minister, Alex Salmond announced investment in three demonstration schemes in Glasgow and Fife. The First Minister said:

“By investing £2.67 million in these district heating schemes, we are working towards reducing fuel poverty and bringing down heating bills for some of those who are most in need. That is good news for tenants in Glasgow and for our NHS in Fife, and the low-carbon technology means it’s also better for the environment."

Wyndford district heating – household surveys gathering momentum (October 2012)

Cube Housing Association are currently installing a district heating network in the Wyndford estate, along with external wall insulation. The system is being turned on in stages, so some homes have already switched from old electric storage heaters. When it’s finished, the network will supply heat and hot water to Cube’s 1,500 tenants, and the 400 owner-occupiers on the estate will be able to opt in too. The scheme presents Heat and the City with a fantastic opportunity to find out in real-time about the development and impacts of the project from the perspectives of the numerous people involved, including the housing association, the energy company and, importantly, the residents of Wyndford. We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has already generously taken the time to speak with us.

Speaking to households is an important part of building the evidence base around district heating. We are currently running a survey at Wyndford, asking people about how they heated their homes before the new system, what their heating needs are, and what they think about the new scheme. We are also talking to residents about the current state of their health, and will return next heating season to see whether in the new scheme has made a difference. In addition to the project team, interviews are being conducted by Alex Hensby, Katherine Ord, Maddie Breeze, Mike Slaven, and Tristan Partridge, with Margaret Tingey coordinating contact with households and scheduling interviews. The interview team is doing a fantastic job, and has already completed 50 of the target 150 interviews with the pace really picking up over the last couple of weeks.

Thanks to all those Wyndford residents who have already spoken with us. If you are a Wyndford resident and have received a letter, we’ll be contacting you soon to arrange a time to meet you, either by telephone or by knocking on your door. If you want to contact us about the survey, please call 0131 650 2841 or one of the numbers on the letter.

Financing District Heating: Heat and the City Workshop with Community Energy Practitioner Michael King, The Building Centre, London, 27 April 2012

This one day Workshop brought together leading municipal energy practitioners (including 21 local authorities and a housing association), UK and Scottish Governments, and a range of commercial industry representatives to discuss strategies for financing district heating initiatives. The workshop was in two halves, with the morning focusing on public sector discussions and the afternoon on interaction between public and private. We assessed different commercial models, and their impact on governance in relation to project design, financing (including EU ELENA funds), and the distribution of risks, responsibilities and revenues. We also learned about the use of risk registers to drive progress by allocating tasks to those best equipped to manage them, and heard about the impressive work being done to establish a Community Energy Fund in Cambridgeshire. There was a discussion about local authority responses to the UK DECC Heat Strategy consultation, and agreement to sending a joint response. Each organisation also needs to submit views based on their specific circumstances. A presentation about Göteborg District Energy, established in the 1950s, revealed that the business now employs 1100 people, uses mainly recycled or renewable fuels and has a turnover of SEK3bn. In the afternoon we were joined by finance specialists from Ernst and Young and PWC, who demonstrated the costs and benefits of different ownership models, key determinants of appraisal metrics (such as internal rate of return), and the use of sensitivity analysis. We also saw something of the ambitious evaluation by Ramboll of the London Royal Docks district energy potential. Commercial providers (E.ON, Metropolitan, Mitie, Powerpipe, Regeneco, Veolia and Vital Energi) then answered questions from public sector delegates about particular development opportunities. Lastly, some folk got the opportunity to head off to the pub, despite the 'security incident' on the Tottenham Court Road which saw the whole area closed off! We'd like to remind anyone reading this to respond to DECC’s Heat Strategy consultation - deadline, 24th May.With many thanks again to our funders, the UK Research Councils, and to the event sponsors, Powerpipe and Ramboll.

Documents and presentations from the day can be found here.

Heat and the City wins Edinburgh Beltane Public Engagement Challenge prize – 22/03/12

Heat and the City's Leadership and Organisation for District Energy workshop (September 2011) was awarded joint second prize in the third round of the Edinburgh Beltane Public Engagement Challenge. The Challenge aims to foster a cultural shift within universities towards greater engagement between academics and broader society. The Heat and the City workshop brought together officers from local authorities actively engaged in development of new district heating networks, along with expert practitioners and policy makers, and was an opportunity for mutual learning, both between academics and practitioners, and amongst an emerging network of "vanguard" local authorities. The prize includes £1,000 for further engagement work.

Professor Jan Webb appointed to Scottish Government Expert Commission on the Delivery of District Heating

Jan Webb, Sociologist and Principal Investigator of the RC-UK Heat and the City Research Project, has accepted an invitation from the Scottish Government Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism to become a member of the newly established Expert Commission on District Heating. The Commission is charged with advising the Government on the steps necessary to ensure a major move towards district heating in Scotland, and will work alongside government to remove barriers. Members are drawn from industry and community sectors, academia and public agencies. The Commission will contribute to energy and enterprise policy and housing strategy, and identify financial mechanisms for new district heating infrastructure. The UK Government National Infrastructure Plan 2011 and the Carbon Plan 2011 have given renewed impetus to development, and this year should see statements from UK DECC and Scottish Government energy team about their actions to stimulate investment in district heating.

Scottish Council for Development and Industry Breakfast Meeting 28 October 2011

Jan Webb joined other speakers from SCDI, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Scottish Power at a breakfast meeting in Glasgow to discuss the barriers to a low carbon Scotland, and the potential for action at city scale. Jan talked about the difficulties which liberal democratic governments face in managing the transition to a low carbon energy infrastructure, and emphasised the potential social and economic benefits of city-scale district energy. She argued that local authority leadership is critical to progress, and to effective partnerships with business and community organisations.

Prof Jan Webb presented the keynote address at the Scottish National Rural Network meeting on Community Energy on 18 October 2011.

Jan talked about the significant role for community energy and heat networks in a low carbon energy system. She drew attention to the UK Government commitment to support community ownership of renewable energy in the Electricity Reform White Paper. A distributed energy system is more resilient and can reduce the costs of electricity network reinforcement by generating more energy locally. This system is established in Denmark, where rural towns use combined heat and power systems which also contribute to balancing the electricity grid. In the afternoon, Community Energy Scotland ran workshops to help community organisations develop their own energy project. More details and presentations available from Scotland National Rural Network

Dr Stewart Russell 6th August 1955 - 17th September 2011

We are sad to report the tragic and untimely death of our colleague, Stewart Russell. Stewart had been battling with cancer since February. He will be greatly missed, both as a colleague and friend.

Stewart was Deputy Director of Edinburgh University's Research Centre for Social Sciences, and was a much valued member of the Heat and the City team. Much of Stewart's work was on energy innovation and governance issues. He undertook a major study on the history up to the mid 1990s of combined heat and power and district heating systems in the UK (read a summary here). His other research work on energy issues has included projects on health risks of energy systems; on renewable energy in Australia and ‘green power’ retail schemes in its electricity sector; on greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies; on domestic energy use; on ‘sustainable city’ experiments; on microgeneration; and on local government energy and sustainability planning.

As the memories and reflections of Stewart's colleagues and friends make clear, he had a great influence on his many colleagues and was much respected, admired and liked. He will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with his partner, Lorraine.

Workshop: Local Authorities and District Heating – Sept 2011

On the 15th and 16th of September, the Heat and the City project ran a workshop on Municipal Leadership and Organisation for District Energy. The event drew together representatives from 18 Scottish and English local authorities who represent pioneers in the development of district heating (DH) in the UK. In addition, representatives of UK and devolved government, the Energy Saving Trust and a number of private sector experts attended.

Through presentations and discussion, the workshop explored solutions to the challenges facing local authorities pursuing DH as a means of tackling rising energy prices, reducing CO2 emissions and regenerating local areas. Many participants remarked how helpful it was to spend time discussing the nuts-and-bolts practicalities of developing DH systems with other practitioners, and were keen for similar events to take place in future.

The event was immensely valuable to the Heat and the City project, expanding the team’s understanding of the issues confronting local authorities and suggesting a number of avenues for further research. In addition to capturing the experience of a large number of projects, several key actions were identified such as the creation of a dedicated regional or national body to provide expert advice to local authorities, and the use of a central fund to underwrite a number of DH projects. These will inform the Heat and the City project’s research as we go into our second year.

More information and workshop downloads can be found here. The workshop was supported by the Scottish Government, the City of Edinburgh Council, the Edinburgh Centre on Climate Change, and the Combined Heat and Power Association.

PhD Bursaries announced - 10 Nov 2010

Two PhD Bursaries, each worth £1,500 pa for 3 years, are available for PhD applicants commencing in September 2011, to work on sociologically-informed research projects linked to the 'Heat and the City' research project. Applicants should first contact either Dr David Hawkey ( or Prof Janette Webb ( for guidance on drafting a short research proposal. More information is available in the PhD Bursaries announcement.

Accessibility menu