Rev Trevor Sargent’s Ecological Notes for Summer 2020 – A Solar Panel on Your Church Roof Could be Making Money for Your Parish!

‘From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised’. (Ps. 113 v.3)

It is almost nostalgic to recall sociable worship occasions before the Covid-19 restrictions. A special one for me was an invitation to speak in St George’s Church, High Street, Belfast some years ago. The Service was followed by warm hospitality in the adjacent hall. There I was told about how the parish had installed photovoltaic (PV) panels, which turn sunlight into valuable electricity.

This initiative is called ‘Bryson at St Georges’. It is a solar PV project set up in 2014 as a result of a partnership between Bryson Energy and the Select Vestry of the Parish Church of St George, Belfast.  The company installed 12 kW of solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Church Hall at no cost to the parish.  The company recouped the installation costs through payment from Northern Ireland Renewable Obligation Certificates. The Church in turn benefits from income earned by selling electricity to the grid.

Over 400 UK Church properties have solar panels

Since then, photovoltaic technology has developed apace and installation costs have come down, so much so, that now across the United Kingdom, over 400 churches and church properties have installed solar panels.

Reducing the village’s carbon footprint

Martin Findlay, churchwarden at All Saints’ Church, Buckinghamshire, England, spoke for his parish, saying:

‘We have a particular responsibility to take action to protect God’s creation, the Parish Council agreed to install 54 solar PV panels on the roof of the nave and the south aisle. Panels were duly installed and commissioned in November 2010 by ‘Freewatt’ at a cost of £50,000, raised through grants and donations. The electricity generated will be sold to the National Grid using the new government feed-in tariffs and, where possible, used by the church to reduce costs. The long-term aim is for the church to become carbon neutral and for this project to encourage the local community to take action to reduce the village’s carbon footprint.’

They provide a useful income stream

The Revd Canon John Patrick of St Deny’s Church, Sleaford, Lincolnshire gave three good reasons for his Grade 1 heritage church installing solar panels:

‘They have certainly proved a valuable addition to the parish church. First, they speak of our mission as stewards of God’s creation, caring for one another and the planet we have been given out of His providence; secondly, they have proved a successful mix of medieval building and 21st century technology. Thirdly, they provide a useful income stream which more than pays for our own electricity needs.’

Solar PV the best renewable technology for churches

The Diocese of London website makes a financial and ecological case for churches to consider photo-voltaic panel installation, saying:

‘Churches often have large south-facing roofs, which can be exploited by installing solar panels. Solar PV is already the most tried and tested renewable technology applicable to churches.’

Measures to allow surplus PV electricity to be sold to grid overdue.

The Irish Government has been no more than lukewarm in encouraging roof space to be used for solar power generation. In 2009 a pilot scheme was launched to allow for surplus electricity from solar panels on roofs to be sold back to the grid by Minister for Energy, Eamon Ryan TD. However 5 years later, after a change of government, that scheme was scrapped. Perhaps the Church of Ireland, as a custodian of a large number of south facing roof spaces could lobby the new government to allow parishes to sell back to the grid the surplus electricity generated from PV solar panels. As other churches in the Anglican Communion are proving, installing solar panels on south facing roofs can help to keep God’s churches viable, not to mention God’s planet