The heat is on
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Date: 20 February, 2007

Solar panel

A solar panel

 
'As a church, this expresses our commitment to solidarity with poor and marginalised people.'
Sarah Spinney visits a place of worship now powered by the sun

In 2005, St James’s church in Piccadilly, London, a staunch supporter of Christian Aid’s campaigning and fundraising work, installed solar panels on its roof.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels now harness the sun’s energy to power lights and electrical appliances, reducing the church’s carbon dioxide emissions by nearly two tonnes a year and saving it around £500 annually.

‘As a church, this expresses our commitment to solidarity with poor and marginalised people,’ said Revd Dr Charles Hedley of St James’s.

‘Africa is the poorest continent on earth and produces the least CO2, but her people are also the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Knowing this, we cannot just bemoan climate change, but must do something.

‘It has been a real opportunity to think global and act local.’

So what if your church wanted to investigate solar energy?

Step 1: Environmental audit

The first step is to see whether solar panels would be suitable for your church. St James’s decided to install solar panels after a full environmental audit of the church, which compared the benefits of solar power with other measures to cut energy use.

Eco-congregation provides a useful toolkit to help your church do the same. Visit its website http://www.ecocongregation.org/

Once it had decided upon solar power, St James’s used a company called PV Systems to look at the feasibility of installing solar panels on its south-facing roofs.

There are a number of renewable-energy installers in the UK and many of them will be able to offer advice on planning permission and grant applications, as well as designing and installing a solar-power system.

Some places to start:
PV Systems
Solarcentury
Solstice Energy

Step 2: Funding

Solar technology is expensive but as more and more people use it, prices are expected to fall.

St James’s was surprised at the number of grants available to it for the project. Installation cost £36,000, but the church received a grant of £16,500 from EDF Energy’s Green Energy Fund and £12,500 from the Energy Saving Trust. 

St James’s presented the work as an educational project – to make visitors and people in the local community think about renewable energy and climate change – and believes that this helped secure the grants.

Who your church can contact for a grant:
The Energy Saving Trust’s low carbon buildings programme
Your local authority or council

Step 3: Planning permission

St James’s is a Grade 1 listed building. This meant that the panels could not be allowed to either damage the fabric of the building or be visible from the ground. 

However, installing solar panels is a lot simpler than people think. The installers bring some panels along, wire them up and plug them into the mains. Simple as that.

Even bolting panels to a sloping roof involves little more drilling than if the roof tiles were being replaced – so it was a fairly straightforward task for St James’s to obtain consent.

Find out more about solar energy from the Energy Savings Trust.

Quotes about the project ...

‘We are pleased to have been involved in funding such a project. This inspiring scheme will make a small but important contribution to the proportion of energy coming from renewable sources.’
Nigel French, EDF Energy green tariff fund manager

‘Your proposal is an example for other churches. The presumption should always be to employ solar panels unless there is good reason not to.’
The London Diocesan Advisory Board

'Once it was installed and generating power we had a very positive response both from our own congregation, and from a wide range of churches and other organisations who have contacted us with questions and requests for information.’
Simon Dawson, Chair of the Parochial Church Council

... and about the environment

‘It is vital that we cut the CO2 emissions from our buildings if we are to reach the UK's 60% reduction target by 2050. Combining energy-efficiency measures with the fitting of microgeneration technologies [solar panels or wind turbines] on buildings can and will make a real difference.’ 
Alistair Darling, Department of Trade and Industry, 2006

More information on St James's PV installation can be found at www.st-james-piccadilly.org

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