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The Church has power to save

08 November 2013

Energy-saving is a hot topic at the moment. What are churches doing to reduce their bills? Some are developing a new strategy, Rebecca Paveley discovers


Soaring bills: churches with high ceilings are expensive to heat. This photo shows the nave of Salisbury Cathedral, one of the loftiest

Soaring bills: churches with high ceilings are expensive to heat. This photo shows the nave of Salisbury Cathedral, one of the loftiest

ENERGY prices are headline news. Soaring prices, frozen prices; cheap tariffs, green tariffs - the customer has to get to grips with the details of his or her bill and energy consumption or risk losing hundreds of pounds. For most customers - including the 16,200 Anglican churches in the UK - reducing heating and electricity costs is an economic imperative.

"People are paying higher prices already, and that is not going to change," the environment officer for the diocese of Exeter, Martyn Goss, says. "Those churches who invested early on in renewable energy and energy efficiency measures are now in a really strong position. You can't argue with the economics, but for many churches and congregations it is also a question of making a difference to future generations.

"What they are doing is taking the power of God and offering it to the people of God, putting energy back into the community. We have been sharing food and clothes for years; it's about time we looked at sharing energy."

The Church of England's journey towards reducing its carbon footprint and investing in renewable energy began several decades ago, but crystallised with the strategy Shrinking the Footprint in 2006. The strategy is now seven years into its 44-year lifespan - it adopted the Government's timescale, and pledged to cut its carbon footprint by 80 per cent by 2050. But the environmental adviser to the Archbishops' Council, David Shreeve, says that there is a movement to set a more demanding deadline.

"2050 is an awfully long way ahead; we just came into line with government targets. There is a push in some areas to say 'Let's set a serious deadline for this.'"

A reduction of 42 per cent by 2020 is now suggested as the interim target, and a seven-year plan has been published, setting out goals and deadlines.


THE Energy Audit carried out by the Church in 2012/13 provided the first national attempt to set out the current annual carbon footprint of energy use in the Church's estate, which includes schools, church halls, and vicarages, as well as churches. The audit relied on about 400 volunteers to monitor energy online.

It found that, based on an earlier Carbon Trust report, the Church has reduced its energy consumption by an estimated seven per cent over the past seven years.

Energy savings of another ten per cent should be saved relatively easily, the report suggests - but then it gets harder, Mr Shreeve says.

"Without huge expenditure, it should be possible to reduce energy use by ten per cent by simple things such as putting a draft excluder on the door, or changing light bulbs, but we don't know how many have already done this, of course.

"It's not an easy thing, reducing energy. In London, for example, where a lot of work has been done with churches, the figures have actually gone up although lots of energy efficiency measures have been adopted, because churches are being used more.

"It is obviously good that churches are being used more, that congregations are growing; so we have to deal with this. Figures are going to vary. . . When we've had an amazing summer, like the last one, energy use is lower, but we use a lot more energy if we have a bad winter.

"Lots of our churches have taken action already; very few can afford to waste their energy. But you might have two identical churches in very different situations: one might be open one day a week, and one might be open seven days week, running a soup kitchen and other groups midweek - their energy use is going to be very different."


THE Church recommends that an energy audit should be carried out by consultants as a first step. This will produce a detailed report of energy use, and suggestions of where energy could be saved easily.

One of the biggest areas is often external lighting. Simply by reducing the number of hours that a church is floodlit can save a huge amount of energy.

Matt Fulford is a consultant who advises churches on energy-saving measures, and also works with the Gloucester diocesan advisory committee (DAC). There are, he says, some simple things that most churches could do.

"Avoid the default position of 'heating the church because it's good for the building'; it may be the case, but very often the church stood for 600 years without any heating, which has been introduced only in the past 100 years, and can cope without it.

"If reviewing a church's heating system, then select a system aligned to how the building is really going to be used, not just underfloor heating because it is nice in the church down the road - that could be a dreadfully expensive system if it is not the right one."

And simply, but very importantly, he says, set the controls correctly, and make sure that they match up to how the church is used; reduce draughts with curtains and draught excluders; and insulate roof-space where possible.

One parish in Yorkshire saved money by listening to the advice of a visitor, who noticed that the lights in the nave were high up on the ceiling, but said that if they were lowered, they would not need such strong light bulbs. The visitor even volunteered to come in and lower the chains for the lights and put in a less powerful bulb, instantly saving the church money.

Most dioceses have an environmental adviser, lay or ordained, who can advise churches and the DAC on energy efficiency and renewable-energy schemes for electricity and heating.


THE general view on energy-saving has shifted dramatically in the past few years, largely to do with energy economics, Mr Shreeve says. "People used to say they didn't want to change to energy-efficient light bulbs because they didn't like the kind of light they gave out, but now everyone accepts that is what they buy."

Many churches are thinking much bigger than just changing light bulbs, however. At St Michael and All Angels', Withington, in Gloucester diocese, for example, the breakdown of the existing oil boiler was a starting point for thinking about alternatives (see case study, above). Small, rural, churches have installed wood-pellet boilers; wind turbines have been erected on church towers to provide energy for heating; solar panels have been installed on thousands of roofs; and ground-source heating has been installed in some churches.

Mr Shreeve is optimistic about reaching the goal, but realistic, too. "Churches still have a long way to go, but so many of them are just getting on with it. The Church of England isn't an organisation where people will phone up and tell us when they've changed a light bulb. But on the other hand it has some buildings which are very difficult, and impossible to change."

Mr Goss has come up with an idea that may just work in some of the impossible-to-change churches. Last Sunday, a pilot scheme began in Devon to loan churches re-usable "hot-bott" cushions for churchgoers to sit on during services. The cushions were originally created for sports stadiums in Scotland, and can be used up to 1000 times. At the press of a button, the cushions heat instantly, and the warmth lasts for more than an hour - long enough for the average church service


Case study: Withington

WHEN members of the con­gregation at St Michael and All Angels', Withington, in Gloucester diocese, realised that their old church boiler was on its last legs, they decided to have a rethink.

The worn-out boiler gave the them a chance to think big, and
they took it, deciding not only to replace their boiler with a "green" wood-pellet boiler, but to look at the church's energy consumption as a whole, and find ways of reducing it.

The result is that the Grade I listed Norman church was able to claim to be the first zero-carbon church building in the UK, and the church is now earning an income from selling its surplus energy.

One of the churchwardens, Dr Philippa Moore, said that the small congregation of about 20 people was enthusiastic from the start.

"Our church is a Grade I listed building, and it's a big church with a high nave ceiling; so it was always difficult to heat. We put up dis­plays in the village so that every­one could see what we were doing. The villagers were all supportive. It's a small village with a very small regular congregation. Everybody was pleased with the result."

The £43,000 project was largely paid for by grants, and here the church was helped by having an expert in the village, who is also the diocese of Gloucester's sus­tainability adviser, Matt Fulford. He helped the church with the process of applying for grants, and managed the whole project.

The first step was for the church to understand what its energy needs were. A Sunday service and a midweek service meant that the heating was needed only seven hours a week, but the main energy use was from external floodlighting.

This demand was cut by altering the timing on the floodlights to go off at 10.30 p.m. instead of mid­night, and to be off completely between May and September. These times and dates were agreed after consultation with the village, and the change instantly reduced the overall electrical demand by 13 per cent.

The internal lights were then replaced with energy-efficiency lights, reducing consumption by a further 24 per cent.

The biomass boiler replaced an inefficient oil boiler, and reduced consumption by another 45 per cent. Twenty-four solar PV panels were then installed on the roof, feeding back unwanted energy to the national grid, and these are now generating about £1200 for the church, providing a positive carbon abatement. The total result adds up to a zero-carbon church.

The solar panels cannot be seen from below, but only from the tower. Dr Moore said that this undoubtedly helped in winning people over to the scheme.

"We are such a small church. It's amazing what God can do. We have had a lot of interest from other churches, and show many people around our building, showing them what can be done." 

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