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Shetland Heat Energy and Power

Executive Director Derek Leask's blog on innovation at SHEAP

Derek Leask Sheap

About Derek

Derek Leask had a background is fisheries and seafood before joining the board of SHEAP as a non-executive director in 2016. He became Executive Director in 2019. As a fisheries consultant he spent a great deal of time in Norway and with Shetland’s island neighbours; Faroe and Iceland. He saw many similarities there to Shetland towns and villages, but felt that somehow they seemed more innovative in energy production and supply. However,  when he started working with SHEAP he realised Shetland too has energy resources of which any Scandinavian community could be proud.

An innovative industry model

"In the 1990’s, Shetland Islands Council started looking for new solutions for disposing of domestic and commercial waste, and reducing its environmental impact. At that time, waste incineration was broadly viewed negatively in the UK and so Shetland looked to its historic Scandinavian connections to find solutions.

Unlike the UK, District Heating and Combined Heat and Power have been important sources of energy (heating, cooling and electricity) in the Nordic countries for a long time. Sweden’s first district heating system was created in the late 1940s and systems are particularly common in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Baltic countries and Eastern Europe.

Copenhagen based Waste to Energy (WTE) engineers, Cowi, were engaged to design and create the system and Shetland Heat Energy and Power (SHEAP) came into existence in 1999. 

The WTE plant was owned and operated by the Council. SHEAP was formed as a separate organisation and was financed and owned by the Shetland Charitable Trust which uses funds derived from the Oil and Gas industry in Shetland to benefit the local community.

Over the years the Trust gradually stepped back from having a hands-on role in the business; profits are returned to them assisting in the wide range of charitable activities they deliver across the islands. While SCT is still the full share holder we now operate independently and as a separate commercial entity.

This created an unusual industry model. Most Waste to Energy Company’s own the means of production and the mode of delivery and supply of the heat produced. Many will also be producing electricity as well. In Shetland SHEAP and the ERP are very much community facing and therefore work very closely together to ensure maximum community benefit.

Ongoing innovation

With the prevalence of COVID-19 and the travel restrictions we’ve taken the time to reach out to different district heating companies and organisations in the UK and Scandinavia to discuss challenges, opportunities and shared practice. This has proven invaluable and sharing information in this way has been a great learning experience, and has given us some inspiration to try new approaches. 

We’re currently looking at new energy sources and have plans to expand our network. We’ve also taken some learning from Denmark on the use of drones with heat sensing technology for network maintenance survey work – which we’re adopting locally.

We try to play an active part in the energy community in Shetland and there seems to be some exciting developments in the pipeline with the Shetland Energy Hub and Project Orion.


SHEAP has worked away for over 20 years now providing low cost, low emission heat and being a major part of the solution in diverting Shetland’s waste away from landfill. Four and a half million bags of rubbish are burned every year – equivalent to 160 full sized football pitches.

This has gone mostly under the national political radar.

As governments around the world take increasing accelerated action to prevent catastrophic climate change, heating networks are suddenly being seen as a really positive weapon in the move away from fossil fuel based energy. Recent legislation at Scottish Government level is recognising and supporting the creation and development of heating networks across Scotland, and the waste to energy infrastructure that exists in Shetland is at last being seen as a leader in this field and as the positive force for good that it is.

Ongoing policy challenges

While we’re enjoying better recognition, district heating is often omitted from government schemes encouraging consumers to switch to lower carbon heating sources. The adoption of the Islands Act which means legislation has to take into account islands circumstance may hopefully help change this for us. We have many potential consumers who would switch from fossil fuel heating systems to district heating if they could get support.

SHEAP is a community minded district heating system selling energy at affordable levels to our customers and helping keep the carbon footprint low. Despite this we still have a shockingly high rates bill which clearly is anomalous with what Government is trying to achieve with heat networks.

These things make a difference and hopefully now that heating networks are being promoted and supported by government legislation SHEAP can continue to follow the Scandinavian model, reduce fuel poverty, address climate change and remain an asset in an island community like Shetland."


Communities and low carbon - SHEAP

Heating a community, fighting fuel poverty and saving the planet.

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