Location: Acharacle, Highland

Technology: solar PV panels, energy storage, heat pump

CARES funding: £63,727.75 capital grant

Date installed/operational: November 2022


Acharacle Community Company (ACC) purchased Acharacle Community Centre from Highland Council in 2021. The centre hadn’t been upgraded for many years and badly needed a replacement heating system.

Under community ownership, ACC was able to access grants that the local authority couldn’t to invest in the building for future use. ACC undertook the renovation project independently, but it received funding from several organisations including the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES), SSE, Highland and Islands Enterprise and The National Lottery Community Fund.

Project aims and objectives

In 2021, ACC contacted Zero Waste Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Business Support Service (now Business Energy Scotland) for advice on how to improve the hall’s heating system. ACC received a tailored report which recommended upgrading the insulation and installing a new heating system, more efficient water heating and storage, new windows, and LED lights.

ACC aimed to:

  • install a new heating system
  • install a more efficient hot water/replacement boiler
  • make renewable energy the building’s primary energy source.

By making these improvements, ACC hoped to lower the building’s energy costs and make its running costs more manageable. ACC decided early in the project that replacing the whole system using a single contractor would be the most efficient option for cost, good communication, easier maintenance and usability.

Outcomes and achievements

In 2021, ACC applied to the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) for support. It received a capital grant of £63,727.75 towards the cost of installing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, energy storage and a heat pump system.

ACC successfully installed:

  • an air source heat pump providing heating and hot water
  • solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and battery storage that feeds into the heat system
  • new heaters in every room
  • loft insulation
  • insulation in one of the largest rooms (lowering the ceiling and adding insulation above the panel boards)
  • energy efficient LED lighting.

New carpets were also fitted, and the building was freshly painted throughout.

A spokesperson from ACC said:

“The centre is generally warmer and more pleasant to be in as the heat pump keeps all the rooms at a constant warm temperature. During the summer months, it is hoped a significant cost saving will be felt. The loft insulation is also helping to keep the heat in. Users of the centre have commented on how much better it feels throughout and there has been an increase in the number of people using the centre.”

The spokesperson added that unfortunately “the cost saving has been minimal – largely due to the increased costs in electricity and rise in the energy price cap. ACC had to change providers during this period and the rate was not competitive, but no other option was available. It is generally agreed, however, that had we not replaced the system, the costs would now be even higher.”

The spokesperson adds that “having a warm space that is open daily is an enormous asset to any community in the current cost of living crisis. The centre provides spaces for groups to meet, socialise and interact. Ensuring that the income generated from room rental and events can cover the running costs of the centre was a primary objective and this has largely been achieved, although the energy prices overall are still having an impact. Despite this, the centre has remained open all winter and the system that was installed is working well.”

A view outside Acharacle Community Centre

Lessons learned

The ACC spokesperson identified several lessons learned throughout the renovation project:

  1. Take a fabric first approach – “insulate the building and prevent draughts before adding any new heating systems. Funding should be two tiered to reflect this and older buildings in particular will be vulnerable to heat loss.”
  2. Have a single point of contact and provide regular updates to the board – “we could have managed this better; development officer was only part time and really it needed a full-time staff member dedicated to the project.”
  3. Getting quotes – “it was challenging getting quotes! I’m not sure if there is a good suggestion or lesson learned here, but it was quite tricky to get a company that was local enough, in our very remote and rural area.”

An outside view of Acharacle Community Centre

Published May 2023.