A Bill has been introduced at Holyrood with the aim of furthering the development of community heating networks.
The Heat Networks (Scotland) Bill, introduced on Tuesday by Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity Secretary Michael Matheson, would set up a regulatory framework for the projects.
If passed, the legislation would enable more networks to be built to heat small communities, lowering the need for less efficient single boilers along with the possibility of the networks being powered by renewable sources.
The initiative generates heat at a central source, with either hot water or steam transported to homes and other nearby buildings using insulated pipes, according to District Heating Scotland.
Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said there are currently more than 800 networks across the country but the Bill will allow for further expansion.
The Scottish Government believes the passage of the Bill would help to meet climate targets set out in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act last year, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045.
Mr Wheelhouse said: “We are facing a global climate emergency and one of the major challenges is reducing and ultimately stopping the impact from heating our homes and buildings, which is where more than half the energy we consume as a society currently goes.
“Heat networks have huge potential to reduce that impact by providing more efficient, environmentally friendly solutions.
“The Scottish Government is determined to unlock the potential for that sector wherever possible and stimulate local jobs across Scotland in the process of delivering projects.”
He added: “We have done much to support the sector in recent years – there are currently more than 830 networks operating in Scotland, including significant projects we have supported in locations such as Glenrothes – but the sector is currently lacking a coherent regulatory framework and the Heat Networks Bill therefore marks the beginning of a transformational change as we seek to create a supportive market environment for the necessary expansion of heat networks.
“The benefits of heat networks are not only environmental, they can save space, remove combustion risk within buildings, and have been shown to save householders and businesses up to 36% in fuel costs, with consequent benefits for tackling fuel poverty and reducing costs faced by businesses and public bodies.”
The introduction of the Bill comes as the Scottish Government is expected to pass its budget on Thursday with the support of the Scottish Greens.
The budget features £180 million of funding to decarbonise heating across Scotland.
Fabrice Leveque, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, said: “This draft Bill is a crucial step on the road to net-zero climate emissions for Scotland.
“Its implementation will make it easier to build heat networks in our city centres, delivering renewable heat from the air, ground and sewers directly to homes and offices via a network of hot water pipes, either under or above ground.”