The cost of heating and lighting our churches is a factor driving interest in alternative energy options such as photo-voltaic cells or ground source heat pumps.
Early days for churches and renewable energy.
The potential use of alternative sources of energy in churches is still an evolving scene. Goverment incentives are also reducing, so the costs and benefits remain uncertain. Each church case is likely to be different, and the most cost-effective solution for a 'life expired' boiler may prove to be an efficient modern gas-powered replacement. However, with an eye on the future impact of climate change and rising fuel costs it is good to consider the scope for more radical solutions.
Recent consultations within Durham and Newcastle Dioceses - involving architects, conservation and archaeology officers, system specialists and church leaders - have explored the practicalities of various systems and some case studies of church installations. From discussion of the ‘pros and cons’ it is clear that a number of challenges face those who wish to adopt these technologies, and it is 'early days' as far as experience of church installations are concerned.
More work is needed on this, but the following is a brief review of some of the options and issues, and we also provide links to some useful sources of further advice and case studies. Two particular options have been reviewed at this stage:
- Solar panels or Photo-Voltaic (PV) cells - these usually need to be sited on a south-facing roof and thus tend to be visually obtrusive. Fixing them to a listed building can cause problems for the fabric of the building Up-front costs are high, but long-term maintenance and repair requirements of PV cells are as yet unknown. However, we are advised to be extremely sceptical of ‘PV for free’ schemes, and installing a more efficient heating system might be more cost-efficient than PV cells for many churches.
- Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP) - heat water for circulation to radiators, and requires some electricity to operate. Installation is highly disruptive and requires a large area of ground – with implications for archaeological remains around churches. Vertical boreholes are less intrusive but more costly. A building needs to be well insulated to maximise the benefit - difficult to achieve in an historic church. GSHP is only likely to be cost effective for a building in frequent use.
- English Heritage has published guidance on solar panels, which is available on their website here.
- The Diocese of Oxford has also produced a very helpful guide which can be downloaded from here.
- A case study of the installation of photovoltaic panels on a Listed church building can be downloaded from the webpage of St Denys' Church Sleaford.
- Bio-mass energy is another option, still at an early stage in terms of church experience. One church in our area is currently implementing an innovative bio-mass project, see energyshare.com/earsdon-renewable-energy
We hope to add further to this page in due course - if you know of any interesting projects please let us know!