Renewable and zero direct emissions heating systems in affordable housing projects (phase 2): evaluation

An evaluation of the selection, installation and performance of zero direct emissions heating (ZDEH) systems installed in new affordable homes in Scotland.

4. WP2 - Knowledge sharing hub

4.1. Overview

4.1.1. Rationale

The Phase 1 evaluation in 2021 made the following recommendations on knowledge sharing to support the uptake of ZDEH in new affordable homes:

  • Facilitate knowledge sharing between RSLs and Councils to help them save time, use more cost-effective approaches, and increase the use of low- and zero carbon generation technologies (LZCGTs) in new builds.
  • Publish best practice and knowledge-sharing findings to support affordable housing providers and increase the use of LZCGTs as a default.
  • Facilitate knowledge sharing and best practice between affordable housing providers and private developers to help developers get onboard with LZCGTs. Private developers were noted by several stakeholders to be behind in terms of LZCGT uptake and meeting higher sustainability standards.

These recommendations led the Scottish Government to specify the following as one of the aims for Phase 2 of the evaluation:

  • Develop more detailed, practical recommendations for setting up a best practice knowledge sharing hub or equivalent for key stakeholders e.g. developers either through an existing mechanism or developing a new one.

4.1.2. Consultee overview

As affordable housing providers, all eight stakeholders interviewed for WP1 were asked for their opinions on knowledge sharing in the Scottish housing sector and on a potential knowledge sharing hub. Alongside conversations with these stakeholders and the Scottish Government, the following organisations were also consulted on the potential hub:

  • SSE
  • Cala Homes
  • The Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations
  • Good Homes Alliance
  • Built Environment – Smarter Transformation
  • The Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers
  • Scotland's Housing Network
  • Homes for Scotland
  • The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations
  • UK Green Building Council
  • The Heating and Hotwater Industry Council

The following chapter represents the feedback gathered from these organisations.

4.2. Opportunity analysis

4.2.1. Existing resources

The resources that are currently available to stakeholders in the Scottish housing sector were assessed, with the aim of identifying available information and means of knowledge exchange relevant to the Scottish housing sector, as well as the gaps in these resources. A matrix of these resources is presented in Appendix A.

Whilst this matrix is not exhaustive, it indicates that there are numerous resources available to support the Scottish housing sector. However, none of the resources are dedicated to domestic buildings in Scotland or to ZDEH, and there are no current resources that focus entirely on heat in Scottish buildings (although one is understood to be in development). These findings have been echoed by the interviews with affordable housing stakeholders from WP1.

As such, there is an opportunity to develop a hub specifically for ZDEH in domestic new builds, that utilises existing resources, collaborates with relevant stakeholders, and creates new content directly relevant to its focus, in order to help the sector work towards meeting the 2024 NBHS.

4.2.2. Current knowledge sharing practice

During the calls with stakeholders from WP1, most advised that they currently engage with external groups to share learnings relating to heat and to keep up to date with best practice. Although, two of the eight advised that they engage with energy forums to a very limited degree, partly because they had significant experience and minimal issues with heat pumps.

Across the WP1 stakeholders and the private housebuilder consulted, meetings and forums facilitated by the following groups were referenced as platforms to discuss heat in new builds:

  • Homes for Scotland
  • Scotland's Housing Network
  • Built Environment – Smarter Transformation
  • The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations
  • The Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations
  • Local Authority Strategic Housing Investment Plan meetings
  • Regional Council-RSL housing networks (such as the Highlands and Islands Housing Associations Affordable Warmth Group)

Two stakeholders also referenced email bulletins and a further two mentioned direct relationships with local contractors and heat pump manufacturers as a means of acquiring knowledge.

Given that all stakeholders provided different answers when asked how they currently share knowledge, it is clear that not all housebuilders are accessing the same resources. Over half consulted also indicated that they have a distinct lack of time to engage with external resources. As such, a dedicated hub for ZDEH in new build housing should be clearly advertised to the whole sector, and represent high value for the time commitment made, in order to avoid low or diminishing engagement.

4.2.3. Requirements for a knowledge sharing hub

Support for a hub

Among the affordable housing providers interviewed, all voiced support for an online knowledge hub dedicated to heat in new builds. Of the 11 industry stakeholders consulted, all but one voiced high support, with one housing network indicating that they would be much more supportive of additional face to face knowledge exchange, rather than an online resource.

Reasons provided in support of a hub, in order of frequency, include:

  • To provide evidence-based information on the real-world costs of ZDEH in new-builds, as well as tenant experiences
  • ZDEH feels very new to a lot of housebuilders
    • Concerns around the costs to install ZDEH systems, and costs to tenants are very high, particularly in urban areas where gas heating is still common in new builds
    • A hub with reliable information could tackle scaremongering in the sector, particularly relating to ASHPs
  • It would be good to have a credible, go-to source of information on ZDEH, particularly for organisations with limited resources
  • To address common questions that housebuilders have in relation to how electric heating and grid connections interact

"I absolutely support the development of a hub, the sooner the better! Housebuilders need to see examples of good practice in one place and speak directly to those who've delivered projects that others can learn from."

Stakeholders from existing networks and associations provided specific questions that they were aware their members would want a hub to address. These are listed in section 5.2, where the content of potential case studies is considered.

Concerns for a hub

Stakeholders also voiced several reservations and concerns regarding the potential knowledge hub. In order of frequency, these included:

  • Housebuilders may have a distinct lack of time to engage with a hub
    • Many affordable housing providers are currently more concerned with decarbonising their existing stock, rather than new builds
    • The hub should be easy to access – people will be put off if they need more than one password or if they have to pay
  • The information provided must be up to date, unbiased and impartial
  • The hub should have a clear focus and a unique selling point
    • It should avoid duplicating existing information for the sake of creating a new resource
  • Some housebuilders won't want to share bad experiences in the public domain
  • Affordable and private housing developers may not wish to interact with each other

"The housebuilding sector is so busy, learning and sharing knowledge is an 'add on' that often gets dropped due to lack of resources."

The above motivations and concerns regarding the potential hub have been used to inform the recommendations on establishing and implementing a hub (Section 4.4) and what content should be delivered (below), to maximise the benefits to the sector and to reduce risks to success.

Knowledge hub content

The following suggestions for the content of the knowledge hub were provided by stakeholders:

  • Summaries of how different ZDEH technologies work
  • Case studies that include real-world data on system performance, across different housing types and locations
  • Evidence-based recommendations of reliable contractors
  • Evidence-based recommendations of ZDEH models and systems that work well
  • News and funding opportunities related to ZDEH technologies
  • Links to building standards and other relevant policy and regulatory documents
  • Links to industry organisations and other relevant resources
  • Up to date statistics from the Scottish Government concerning the uptake of ZDEH in developments that receive funding from the Affordable Housing Supply Programme.
  • Consumer guides for ZDEH technologies
  • DNO guidance on interactions between grid connections and electric heating
  • Best practice compliance guides for meeting building regulations
  • Relevant research from universities and industry bodies

As a key aim of the hub would be to support the Scottish housebuilding sector, we feel that all of the above suggestions for content merit consideration, having all been suggested by the sector and its supporters. In particular, case studies were discussed with all stakeholders, and opinions around these are summarised in Section 5.

"We think forums are the best way to share knowledge - the lack of sharing of valuable information is more prevalent than a lack of information itself."

Aside from written content, there was strong support, particularly among representatives of housing networks and associations, for the hub to facilitate various activities. The following activities were suggested:

  • Forums for the sector to discuss good and bad experiences of ZDEH
  • Site visits to housing developments where ZDEH systems are in place
  • Q&A events with guest speakers from manufacturers, contractors and DNOs

4.3. Risks to developing and operating a knowledge hub

Through discussing the hub with stakeholders, and exploring existing resources, the risks to developing and operating a hub were identified (as listed in Table 7 below). Suggestions to mitigate each of these are presented based on insights from stakeholders and our own experience.

Table 7: Summary of risks to successful hub development and operation


  • Description: Whether the hub is funded externally or via memberships may impact access and engagement.
  • Mitigation: The Scottish Government could fund the set-up and management of the hub to allow free access to all.


  • Description: The host organisation will require the time and expertise to manage the hub on an ongoing basis for increased impact.
  • Mitigation: The Scottish Government should appoint an organisation with good links to industry and existing expertise and experience to lead the hub.


  • Description: The hub should have a clearly defined and communicated purpose based on sector needs.
  • Mitigation: Engage with the sector to identify their concerns and requirements.


  • Description: The level of ease of access to the hub impacts willingness to engage. This applies to physical and virtual accessibility as well as accessible content.
  • Mitigation: If the hub has member-only content, there should be a maximum of one password-protected step to access this content. Online forums enable those in remote locations to access the hub and require less time commitments for all involved.


  • Description: Some stakeholders are likely to have limited time to engage with a new resource.
  • Mitigation: Engaging with existing organisations with networks in the sector is likely to lead to greater engagement.


  • Description: The credibility and reputation of the hub as a resource may impact engagement.
  • Mitigation: Endorsement from existing networks (where merited) will encourage engagement.


  • Description: Resources need to be high quality to be useful to the sector. Engagement may be low or diminish if the resources are not deemed to be high quality.
  • Mitigation: New content should be moderated to ensure additions are relevant, insightful, unbiased and address key sector questions. Avoid sales pitches, marketing and too much anecdotal insight.


  • Description: Some stakeholders may be nervous to contribute content that highlights challenging or unsuccessful projects if this could be deemed to impact their business.
  • Mitigation: Consider making sensitive case studies member-only content or using member-only forums to discuss negative experiences to avoid the public domain.


  • Description: Stakeholders may be unwilling or unable to contribute content due to real or perceived GDPR concerns.
  • Mitigation: Provide guidance on GDPR and that no personal information should be shared in contributions to the hub. Ensure that the hub has a strict GDPR policy.


  • Description: Contributions to the hub may use different assumptions or be based on particular conditions (such as electricity tariffs).
  • Mitigation: Where relevant, all assumptions and conditions should be explicitly stated and standardised as much as practically possible.


  • Description: The hub's resources should be up-to-date and in line with current regulations and best practice.
  • Mitigation: The hub should be regularly updated and reviewed so that out-of-date information is archived as necessary.


  • Description: The information presented should be relevant to all stakeholders and their respective budgets and remits.
  • Mitigation: Content should be relevant to the full range of locations, scales, ZDEH technologies and business models.

Vested interests

  • Description: Private organisations that may manage or provide content to the hub may have vested interests.
  • Mitigation: Ensure potential vested interests are understood before selecting host organisation and moderate content appropriately.

Unknown unknowns

  • Description: Issues not yet identified that may impact any aspect of the hub.
  • Mitigation: Continue scoping the hub and develop a detailed proposal in order to identify further risks.

4.4. Routes to implementation

Broadly there are three potential pathways to developing a knowledge sharing hub. These, and their respective benefits and risks, were discussed with industry stakeholders and are summarised in the table below.

Table 8: Summary of hub Development Pathways

Pathway 1 : Hub developed by the Scottish Government (SG)


  • Allows SG to have full control of scope.
  • Scope can be fully dedicated to heat in new builds.
  • Easiest way to mandate participation from RSLs and Councils.


  • Internal resource within SG required.
  • Additional admin time for sector to engage with new hub.

Stakeholder feedback

  • Several stakeholders indicated that SG backing is important for the credibility of the hub.
  • Conversations with SG suggested that an SG-run hub would be a static information portal, which does not meet all the requirements of the sector.
  • Two industry stakeholders were concerned that SG would not have the expertise to manage the hub over the long term.

Pathway 2 : Hub developed as a new, independent resource


  • Scope can be fully dedicated to ZDEH in new build homes.


  • New organisation to be developed, resourced and paid for.
  • Dedicated staff required.
  • New website to be created and maintained.
  • Likely to have highest development costs.
  • Additional admin time for sector to engage with new hub.
  • Encouraging engagement from sector may be difficult.

Stakeholder feedback

  • Two stakeholders suggest that a new hub could be created by a consortium of existing bodies with complimentary expertise (such as skills, policy, supply chain), although one voiced that a single body should have overarching control in order to have a single point of accountability.
  • Good Homes Alliance offered to develop and manage the hub, having created a sustainable housing hub for new builds in England[4] and advised the Welsh Government[5] on developing a hub for Zero Carbon Housing.

Pathway 3 : Hub added to an existing resource


  • Minimises admin for sector if it already engages with the resource.
  • Minimises requirements for human resource and web development.


  • Scope may overlap with the organisation's other activities.
  • Not all existing resources are open to the whole of the housing sector.
  • SG may have limited control of content.
  • Existing resource could be limited by a membership fee.
  • Encouraging engagement from sector may be difficult.

Stakeholder feedback

  • Two organisations were very supportive of this option as they felt that their members did not have time to engage with a new resource.
  • A further three organisations were supportive of this option if fully funded.
  • Built Environment – Smarter Transformation advised that they have a remit from Scottish Enterprise to develop a knowledge hub for heat in buildings (including non-domestic and existing buildings). The scope of the hub is in development as of April 2022.

On the basis of discussions with the Scottish Government and stakeholder feedback, Pathway 1 is understood to be the least viable of the three options. Whether Pathway 2 or Pathway 3 is selected is likely to depend on the budget that the Scottish Government has to support the hub, as creating a new organisation and website is likely to be more expensive than utilising an existing resource. Pathway 2 could be viable if the scope aligns well with the existing organisation/s and its membership, is fully funded and the hub insight is made freely available to non-members.

The feedback from Good Homes Alliance indicates that the appetite exists for a single organisation to lead on the development and management of a hub as a new resource (Pathway 2), provided that it is funded externally (most likely via government support or a paid membership model). The most suitable option for Pathway 3 appears to be the hub that the Built Environment – Smarter Transformation are developing, based on stakeholder interviews and the existing resources explored in Section 4.2.1.

4.5. Recommendations for the knowledge hub

Based on the insights presented above, the following recommendations for the development and operation of the hub are suggested.

Knowledge hub creation

1. Engage with and utilise the vast expertise, experience and knowledge from existing associations and networks that already represent the interests of the housing sector. Although not specific to the scope of the prospective hub, they have relevant data and insight, access to and engagement from industry stakeholders and would contribute or advertise the new hub if relevant for them or their members.

2. A new hub or an extension to an existing organisation likely needs to be created, as existing resources do not cover the specific scope of the Scottish Government remit.

3. We recommend that the hub should be developed by an independent entity to give it enough time and resource to focus on the scope that the Scottish Government wants it to deliver. An independent entity might be best placed to deliver on the Scottish Government's objectives if they have existing experience, networks, and understanding of the domestic new build market.

Knowledge hub content

1. A hub should be dynamic in nature, with a variety of content, tools and support for the housebuilding sector to meet the New Build Heat Standard. This includes e.g. forums, events, site visits, as well as written case studies. This is to ensure maximum input and output, avoid static content and overcome reservations around sharing negative experiences in the public domain.

2. The case study library needs to be actively managed to ensure quality, relevance, dissemination of useful data and insights and answering key, up-to-date, industry questions.

3. The hub should link visitors to other useful resources, including policy, regulations, and best practice guidance. The hub managers should create content (or invite appropriate industry bodies to do so) where it cannot be found in existing, publicly available resources.

Knowledge hub implementation

1. Funding will be required to establish the hub since the remit is very specific and existing organisations are already following their own agendas with their resource. This funding could cover staffing costs to create content, moderate external content contributions, organise and advertise events, liaise with the Scottish Government, the supply chain and industry networks and other yet to be defined duties. Funding also ensures the hub content is not behind a pay wall.

2. There is an appetite for a knowledge hub and many existing organisations indicated their interest in collaborating, contributing and hosting the hub, including the UK Green Building Council, the Heating and Hotwater Industry Council, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, Good Homes Alliance and Built Environment – Smarter Transformation.

3. To expedite the move to net zero new builds, the hub should be established as soon as possible and run until ZDEH systems are more commonplace in new build developments.



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