16. Community Engagement
Geothermal district heating has not been employed on any significant scale in Scotland, though there are estimated to be more than 240 schemes in Europe producing 12,900GWh of renewable heat  . With very limited experience of geothermal energy HOBESCO sought the views of the community, holding an event for local people to find out more about both the existing Hill of Banchory Biomass Heat Network and the work of this geothermal feasibility study. Attendees of the event, as well as existing HOBESCO customers, were invited to complete a questionnaire, the results of which are shown below.
Question 1 - What is your level of knowledge of geothermal energy?
64% of respondents claimed to have a medium level of geothermal knowledge, surprisingly high given the low level of geothermal energy in Scotland, though during discussions it was apparent that most people have only a very basic understanding. 36% stated a low level of knowledge. Nobody claimed to have a high knowledge level.
Question 2 - Do you support the development of geothermal energy in Scotland?
All respondents supported the development of geothermal energy in Scotland. One commented;
'We need a demonstration plant in Scotland as soon as possible.'
'It is interesting that Aberdeenshire seems to be well suited to using geothermal heat and could be an ideal area for its development. Quite exciting.'
Question 3 - Should development of geothermal energy be supported by government?
100% of respondents stated that geothermal energy requires government support. People understand how geothermal energy might benefit the country and want to see how we might realise its potential.
Question 4 - would you be happy to receive your heat from geothermal energy?
Despite very limited use of geothermal energy in Scotland, all respondents stated they would be happy to receive their heat from geothermal energy. One respondent was concerned about fracking, and whilst the method of heat extraction is not the same as fracking, the negative public image of fracking needs to be addressed whilst developing geothermal energy. General acceptance by the public of renewable energy technologies over the past decade should outweigh any perceptions of association with fracking.
Scottish Government has targeted an additional 40,000 homes to be connected to Heat Networks by 2020, and local authorities will be a key enabler in achieving this goal. However, following the most recent meeting of the Scottish Heat Network Practitioners Group, the lead organisation, Heat and The City, concluded that the capacity of local authorities to coordinate users is weak, and their appetite to do so is driven by enthusiastic individuals. Heat and The City concluded that in order to drive a 'step change' in heat decarbonisation, which district heating can support, requires a shift from standalone projects to a more comprehensive programme of system change. This change needs to be driven by central Government, providing local government and commercial organisations with the tools and resources to facilitate that change, an example being the implementation of funded District Heating Officers. 
The Council's involvement is vitally important for an expanded Heat Network at Hill of Banchory given that public buildings would be potentially large consumers of heat, and buildings such as schools and care homes provide key anchor loads, crucial in operating efficient systems. Initial discussions with Aberdeenshire Council have met with a positive response, and the future success of an expanded geothermal network would require their active participation.