Reading Gordon Cowtan’s book on Community Energy last week, I came across a case study of St Michael’s and All Angels Church in Gloucestershire. It’s the first zero carbon retrofit church in Britain, and a good example of what you can do with an old building.
Britain has thousands of old churches, some of them well over a thousand years old. The Church of England has most of them, around 16,000 buildings in total. Three quarters of them are listed, which means they have historical significance and there are restrictions on what can be done with them. That’s a real environmental challenge. The church acknowledges the need for leadership on climate change, and old buildings are often hugely wasteful when it comes to energy.
St Michael and his angelic friends wanted to re-fit their church to lower its energy use and carbon emissions, and they also wanted to ‘demonstrate the art of the possible’ for other churches.
They started by reducing their energy use, turning off floodlights that illuminated the church at night. Pretty this may be, but it’s very wasteful. At the very least they could be on a timer and turned off in the middle of the night. More efficient lighting was also added inside the church.
Electricity needs were met by installing a solar array on the roof. This could be a problem on some listed buildings, but not here. The roof is invisible from the ground anyway, tucked away behind the parapet and cornices. Since historic churches are traditionally aligned east to east, they present a useful south-facing roof that’s perfect for solar PV. Less positively, you can’t drill into the roof of a listed building, so the panels were installed with an unusual roof ladder system.
Heating had been provided by an old oil powered boiler, and this was replaced with a biomass pellet boiler. The wood pellets are sourced from local Gloucestershire woods.
With 100% renewable electricity and heat, it was now the first carbon neutral historic church, and the first zero carbon Grade 1 listed building. And after 900 years, you don’t even need to worry about embedded emissions.