Iona’s heat plans light the way for a greener nation

Keen readers of The Times may have spotted this comment piece about our proposed Heat Network earlier this month. Full text below if you missed it.



Iona’s heat plans light the way for a greener nation

Malcolm Robertson
The Times

Iona holds a unique place in Scottish hearts. St Columba founded the abbey in 563, bringing Christianity to Scotland. Plundered by Vikings, it nonetheless established itself as a centre of learning and spirituality, and is considered far removed from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

It is far from it. As global policymakers head for Glasgow for Cop26 in November the community on Iona are pioneers in the climate crisis. The vision is simple: to decarbonise the island’s heat supply and renew the fabric of its buildings through a ground-source heat network, extracting energy from boreholes sunk almost 200 metres deep.

The project would stop 230 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year and enable the community to maintain a secure, affordable heating supply. It would also boost revenue, skills, businesses and employment.

The network is shovel-ready after five years of work by indefatigable islanders who have faced down every hurdle. Infrastructure projects in remote places invariably cost more than equivalent mainland initiatives, but even the seismic ruptures of Brexit and Covid-19 have been no match for islanders’ determination. By 2020 the government had confirmed that the heat network was “the optimal solution” for Iona.

The project was poised for installation last year when the pandemic caused costs of drilling and heat pumps to spike. Under the old Renewable Heat Incentive, these costs were required to be funded by loans that became unaffordable overnight. That subsidy is now gone and there is no scheme to replace it. There are arrangements for funding streams in England and Wales, but Scotland risks being left behind.

The Scottish government is committed to heat networks, but these meet 1 per cent of demand, against a target of 18 per cent. This year a draft strategy was published, including a £1.6 billion spending commitment during this parliament to promote low carbon heat and energy efficiency in homes and businesses. That plan affirms that “a just transition puts people, communities and places at the heart of our approach to climate change action”, and the Iona initiative gives ministers an opportunity to turn its rhetoric into reality. Iona is going green. It’s a story Scotland should be proud to share with the world.

Malcolm Robertson is a strategic communications executive and founding partner of Charlotte Street Partners.

Energy Redress funding

Very happy to confirm that we are one of 15 charities from across the UK to be awarded funding from the Energy Redress Scheme. The Scheme (officially named ‘The Energy Industry Voluntary Redress Fund’) collects voluntary payments from energy companies to redress harm caused to energy consumers. It is administered by Energy Saving Trust, and aims to distribute available funds to support energy consumers in vulnerable situations and the development of products or services which would provide a benefit for certain groups of energy consumers.

It was a competitive round, with over 75 applications being received, seeking a total of over £14 million . We were one of five successful Scottish projects to be awarded. The grant of £183,700 make a significant and welcome dent in the final total we are working to secure for our Heat Network.

Island mice go to the city

HRH The Princess Royal, Patron of The Iona Abbey Capital Appeal smiles as she waves to Reverend Christine Jones as she leaves an event for The Iona Community at The Glasgow University Memorial Chapel. During her speech Princess Anne congratulated the community on fundraising efforts so far.
*** Image is free to use if published in relation to the Iona Community event.****
Please contact Sarah McDaid at McDaid PR on 07866789688 or email [email protected] for further information.

Our neighbours up at the Iona Community invited us to attend a fundraising event for the Iona Abbey Capital Appeal in Glasgow last month. We met a lot of the people involved in making that project happen, visited with members of the Iona Community, saw some of our fellow Iona inhabitants all dressed up (not a lot of opportunity for that on the island), and told a lot of people about Iona Renewables and the projects we have underway. Oh, and we met the Princess Royal. HRH was very well informed and animated about the possibilities of renewable energy for Iona… a very encouraging conversation!


Photo credit: all images Copyright © Stuart Wallace 2018, used with permission.

Test bore

With enormous thanks to NTS, Andrew Prentice and all immediate neighbours to the Columba field, a test bore drill was completed in August.

The drilling conditions were smooth and rapid, reaching the required depth within a day. The conductivity test returned a very good result of 2.9 W/mK, Watts per metre Kelvin. This figure confirms what the ground source design specialist told us at the outset, that on Iona we are “geologically blessed” for ground source heat, as well as confirming the number of bores required is what was hoped.

Impacts on water courses, drains and other infrastructure were very effectively managed through mutually reinforcing divining by Patrick MacManaway and the drill team. Similar methods will be used throughout the project, (e.g., to avoid damage to drains whilst also – during soft dig for pipe routes – confirming the location and condition of drains).  

The test bore was assisted throughout by the very curious bovine neighbours.

Geophysics and archeology

The installation of our district heat network will involve drilling a number of boreholes, and laying pipes to properties. As Iona is a culturally and historically significant location, there is quite high likelihood of coming across as yet undiscovered cultural heritage assets during the digs. In order to identify the most feasible locations for our boreholes, GUARD Archaeology has undertaken a geophysics survey on our behalf. The have gone over the area of excavations to pick up larger or more significant features, which can then be avoided or planned for in programme and budgets. The field work is complete and we await the reporting.

Separately, National Trust for Scotland were on site in the same week with volunteers for one of the annual Thistle Camps. NTS asked us where would be most useful to undertake a pre-construction dig – and together we agreed that a location where boreholes are planned, north of the Village, would be useful. Amongst other items, shards of pottery and a tooth were found, and we await the report from the work as well.

The teams also hosted Bunessan and Iona Primary Schools for a fun, if slightly wet, afternoon learning all about archeology.