Plotting a course for Edinburgh’s net zero future

Turner & Townsend is working with City of Edinburgh Council and partners to plan how the city’s buildings will be decarbonised and how its people and businesses can reap the benefits of the transition.

If Scotland is to reach net zero emissions by 2045, we will need to dramatically step up the pace and scale of transformation across our built environment.

How far and fast we have to go is being defined by local authorities. They have been charged by the Scottish Government with the task of developing Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies (LHEES) for their areas by the end of this year, together with accompanying Delivery Plans.

This is a massive undertaking and Turner & Townsend is bringing its expertise to the challenge, working with City of Edinburgh Council to develop a citywide LHEES, alongside engineering consultant Ramboll and environmental charity Changeworks. Each LHEES must chart how every building, from homes to schools, hospitals, offices and shops, can be upgraded to achieve net zero. For Edinburgh, that means creating a retrofit strategy spanning almost 300,000 homes and around 23,000 non-domestic properties.

For Edinburgh, building retrofit will go hand in hand with increased provision of heat networks, district-wide systems supplying heat from a central energy system via underground hot water pipes. Installing heat networks across the city will not only drive decarbonisation at scale, but also attract investment into major long-term infrastructure assets for the city. Heat networks deliver heat efficiently and cost effectively which also has the potential to dampen customer exposure to price shocks afflicting global energy markets.

Dense demand for heat in towns and cities makes them the most appropriate location for heat networks and Edinburgh already has many small networks in operation. Still, the city has been identified as the third largest in Scotland in its potential to deliver heat via heat networks, and the council is paving the way for major city-wide deployment.

However, Edinburgh’s approach cannot just be about delivering retrofit and heat networks in isolation. Realising Edinburgh’s net zero potential will call for innovative and collaborative responses. First, the city has 50 conservation areas of special architectural or historical interest. This built heritage will need cost-effective routes to decarbonisation which preserve its character. Second, its buildings have many different owners, who will need to be encouraged to work together to enable the delivery of retrofits and heat networks. Third, the city has buildings of every age and type, all of which need appropriate net zero solutions to deliver warmth in an affordable and suitable manner.

At its core, this transition will be about the citizens and businesses of Edinburgh. The LHEES will seek to deliver social and economic benefits alongside environmental goals. It will focus on the target to eliminate poor energy efficiency as a driver of fuel poverty by 2040 and follow delivery approaches which benefit the local people through the economic advantages of a just transition.

A hint of what is to come can be seen in Turner & Townsend’s existing retrofit programme with the City of Edinburgh Council, which includes whole-building refurbishment of the authority’s directly managed social housing. Currently, our project and cost management teams are delivering the retrofit of the 1950s-built Oxcars and Inchmickery Courts in Muirhouse.

Many more buildings of every age, type, tenure and ownership will need to be retrofitted and connected to heat networks under the bold LHEES ambition. Through our work, we are seeking to establish a best practice approach to LHEES, which may provide useful examples for all local authorities.

The net zero transformation will be extraordinary in its scope and scale and its success will ultimately depend on its ability to benefit the people on whose behalf it is being delivered. With its LHEES, Edinburgh is preparing to seize that opportunity.