Church of England installs rooftop solar panels on 500-years-old chapel


(Photo: Unsplash)

The 500-year-old chapel at King’s College, University of Cambridge, is one of the most famous church buildings in the UK. Last year, the college began installing 438 solar panels on the roof of the chapel.

The Church of England, with its 16,000 places of worship in the UK, has set a goal for achieving net zero emissions by 2030. Graham Usher, the Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment, said the churches starting small from using LEDs, putting lights on timers, and installing draught excluders, “There’s lots of tiny changes that can be made. And when they are made, they make quite a huge difference.”

The office has issued “practical path” guidance for churches, outlining the steps to follow. For example, while solar PV and heat pumps may be suitable option, they are recommended only for churches that are busy and active.

Initial measures involve the installation of electric or infrared heaters positioned beneath pews to efficiently warm individuals rather than heating the whole building. Additionally, more economical solutions like curtains, fabric hangings, or panels placed over cold walls can also be considered.

Usher says that about 7% of the churches within Church of England have already reached net zero, largely because they are medieval buildings in rural areas without gas or electricity connections. Many are also used rarely. In contrast, the biggest emitters, typically situated in the cities, are more regularly used for various activities. These buildings are often heated with gas and may also house offices. Although not necessarily old, newer buildings are in the minority, with less than 10% of the church's buildings dating back to the 20th century.

Changes to church buildings are sparking broader discussions. According to Law & Religion UK, the blog keeps an unofficial catalog of judgments in ecclesiastical courts, which determine whether churches can implement significant changes to their buildings. It shows very few instances of refusal for low-carbon heating systems or solar panels. In certain cases, the courts have requested churches to reconsider plans to install new gas or oil boilers, emphasizing the priority of reducing emissions.

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