Technology: air-to-air heat pump and solar panels

Location: Culbokie, the Black Isle, Highland

CARES funding: £20,669.97 capital grant

Date installed: solar panels February 2022, heat pump August 2022


Findon Hall, in Culbokie in the Black Isle, is the community’s village hall. The hall is used by a wide variety of local groups and activities include baby and toddler groups, yoga, carpet bowls, Tai Chi, dance, music and amateur dramatics groups, badminton, Kendo, and a large community market. The hall is also available for private hire for social functions including weddings and funeral teas.

The hall’s management committee and its users were struggling with the hall’s ageing pellet boiler, which was costly to run and regularly broke down. They had to resort to using electric heaters which are expensive to run.

The committee had already insulated the hall’s roof and installed a cycle shelter to encourage active travel and was keen to keep improving the hall’s energy efficiency and sustainability.

Project aims and objectives

The committee was keen to improve the hall’s heating system to make it a more comfortable space, at the same time as saving energy and reducing its running costs. The committee also wanted to minimise cost increases for the groups using the hall, which would allow them to thrive. Minimising its energy bills would help to do this.

The club contacted Zero Waste Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Business Support service (now Business Energy Scotland) for advice on how to improve the hall’s heating and save energy.

Zero Waste Scotland provided a tailored report which recommended the club install an air-to-air source heat pump to replace the boiler, and solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on its south facing roof to generate electricity. The panels would not only reduce its electricity bills but would minimise the heat pump’s running costs too. It also recommended the installation of time lag heating controls.

These measures were estimated to save the committee £6,628 in energy costs, 45,209 kWhs in energy, and 9.5tonnes of carbon emissions each year.

Outcomes and achievements


solar panels on the roof of Findon Hall

In 2022, the committee applied for funding from the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) Let’s Do Net Zero Community Buildings Fund. It received a capital grant of £20,669.97 towards the installation of a new heat pump and solar panels.

The committee commissioned AES Solar to install the solar panels and Crudens to install the heat pump. The solar panels were installed in February 2022 and the heat pump in August 2022.

Barbara Gray, treasurer of Findon Hall management committee, said:

“The solar PV panels produced electricity from the day they were installed and have since been a great success. The heat pump has also been fantastic since being installed. After a scary time last winter when we had limited electric heaters to ward off frost damage, we have come through this cold winter with a pleasantly warm building. It has been extremely effective. The electric bill has increased over the winter, but it is a fraction of the cost of the pellet boiler. We look forward to the summer with the solar panels, offsetting this cost.

“We could not have funded either measure from our own funds. We had been fundraising for many years to insulate our roof which was done in 2020, but this and the pandemic drained our funds and we had limited options to fundraise. Receiving the CARES funding meant we were able to afford to install the solar panels and heat pump. We would have struggled to continue to operate without the heat pump because our pellet boiler was beyond economic repair and very expensive to run.

“Hall rental rates must be affordable to the user groups, and we are keen to keep as many activities running in the village as possible for environmental, cost, and health reasons as well as the social benefits at a time of great and growing need. We hope that by minimising our energy costs and offering a warm comfortable space it will allow us to facilitate new groups and activities and keep enhancing village life.”

Lessons learned

Barbara identifies several lessons learned during the project. She says: “Our main difficulty was the availability of tradespeople and their ability to provide quotes. We also found that we needed planning permission for the air source heat pump, which was unexpected.

“Persistence was required as, even when a company had come out to do a site visit and invested their time in talking to us, some would not quote for the work because they were very busy.

“I would also advise people to contact their planning office as soon as they consider making any improvement measures because there are different rules for non-domestic buildings which could impact on your project.”

Published January 2023.