Use of district heating should be increased in the UK to improve heating efficiency and affordability, according to a new report from energy firm SSE.

According to the report 'Sustainable Heating: Reducing Costs, Improving Comfort and Lowering Carbon Emissions', district heating can increase homeowner comfort levels, cut carbon emissions and create jobs and economic value for the UK.

District heating systems use hot water to heat multiple homes from a central boiler, rather than each individual home producing its own heating requirements. Advocates of the technology claim it is greener, producing considerably less carbon emissions than more conventional forms of heat, and also a more energy efficient way to keep homes warm.

Nathan Sanders, managing director of SSE Enterprise Utilities, said: "This report comprehensively tells us the impact district heating systems can make on residents and their homes from the jobs created through its construction, the improvements in home comfort and the positive benefits to address fuel poverty.

"And, of course, district heating is more efficient than individual boilers because for every unit of primary energy both electricity and heat are generated – thereby delivering more energy ‘bang for buck’ and significantly reducing emissions in the process. As we continue efforts to decarbonise the heat sector, we believe district heating will play a leading role and we hope today's report is a helpful contribution to the debate about how we heat our homes in the future."

The report highlighted examples of where district heating is already proving beneficial to local communities. In 2012, for example, Cube Housing Association partnered with SSE to install the new heating system at the Wyndford estate in Maryhill, Glasgow. It aimed to improve comfort levels and the energy efficiency of almost 1,800 homes; mainly social housing with a small number of privately-owned houses.

The estate has seen a 62% reduction in CO2 emissions since district heating was installed. The report also says tenants and homeowners of Cube Housing Association, at the Wyndford estate in Maryhill, Glasgow, not only had warmer homes and lower bills, but less worries about making ends meet.

Working with the University of Edinburgh, the report concluded:

  • 81% of tenants and 90% of owners said they felt warmer with a new district heating system

  • 60% fewer tenants and 80% fewer owners reported going to bed early to keep warm

  • Tenants cutting back on food expenditure fell 50%

  • Tenants borrowing money for heating fell 60%

  • Tenants putting off paying other bills due to heating costs fell 40%.

Construction of the scheme also delivered a £10m boost to UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the report, supporting 176 job-years of employment.

David MacKenzie, Cube Housing Association director, said: “The district heating scheme is already making a huge difference in Wyndford. Our tenants and factored homeowners are enjoying the benefits of living in warmer, more energy-efficient homes and saving money on their fuel bills. That puts more money in people’s pockets in these tough economic times and helps us address fuel poverty at the same time. We are delighted to have worked with SSE on this innovative project."

As well as contributing to climate change targets, district heating can also play a central role in making progress towards the UK's 2020 energy efficiency target to reduce energy consumption by 20% compared to 2007 levels.

Tim Rotheray Director of The Association for Decentralised Generation, said: “Well designed and operated district heating can make a tangible difference to our communities. This scheme from SSE shows how cutting energy waste can lift residents from fuel poverty; improving their comfort while also cutting carbon. The Scottish government has an opportunity to develop a regulatory investment framework to create more schemes just like this one that can change many more Scottish householders’ lives."