Energy is a large part of the cost of operating a church. Whether you’re just starting out or are an existing congregation, there are plenty of opportunities to reduce energy use through simple and inexpensive steps. The simplest step is to conduct an energy audit. You can have members of your congregation perform no-to-low-cost energy audits themselves or hire an expert to do it.
- Reduced Utility Bills
There are a number of ways that churches can help their congregations become energy efficient, including installing solar panels, switching to more efficient heating and cooling equipment, or doing a self-audit. All of these can reduce energy costs and lower your church’s monthly utility bills, helping your congregation save money while taking big strides toward your environmental stewardship goals. A large part of a church’s energy bill is paid for through its heating and cooling systems, which can be easily reduced by switching to more efficient equipment. These changes can also help prevent future expensive utility bills and improve your congregation’s comfort.
Having an expert conduct a self-audit of your church’s energy usage can be a great way to identify potential opportunities to save money on your utilities and make more energy-efficient improvements in your buildings and HVAC systems. Many organizations, like Interfaith Power and Light or a contractor, can provide this service at little to no cost. Another way that a church can cut energy costs is to replace incandescent lighting with LEDs. These lights use significantly less energy, last longer, and are more environmentally friendly.
In addition to replacing incandescent bulbs, consider installing advanced power strips that detect when a building is not in use and turn off electronics. You can install these at a low cost and see savings of up to 50%! Some churches can even use a local community energy group to install a solar panel system on the roof of their building. These groups typically raise a community share issue to cover the installation and receive a small percentage of any electricity that the church generates.
Using solar panels to generate renewable energy has many benefits and is a popular option for faith communities. It can decrease your congregation’s utility bill and can also provide a good opportunity to build awareness about climate change and other environmental issues. Getting started with solar is easy, and the technology is getting more affordable by the day. Many nonprofit organizations are partnering with churches to make this happen. This includes Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light (MNIPL), which works with more than 400 congregations across the state to help them go solar.
- Increased Value
Solar energy has become an increasingly popular option for churches, synagogues, and mosques to reduce their energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint. It can also be an opportunity for many congregations to raise money for their missions. There are several ways to fund a church solar installation, but one of the most attractive options is member contributions. Especially for smaller, less-expensive churches, this can make the cost of a solar array much more affordable.
In the case of First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Maryland, members of the church created a specially limited liability company (LLC) to fund the installation of the solar panels. This LLC qualifies for state and federal tax credits, lowering the total cost of the solar panel installation. The church used this method to install solar panels on the Empowerment Center, a multi-purpose building. In addition to saving the church money on utility bills, the project helped offset 364 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Other churches have found that a lease is an easy way to install solar on their property without the cost of an upfront investment. However, there are some drawbacks to leasing a solar system. For instance, the leasing company might need to come back to remove the photovoltaic panels at some point in the future, and the church may have to pay for that work. Moreover, the church may not be able to use the space on its property after it’s leased out to a new tenant.
Another approach that can be a good fit for congregations is to use a power purchase agreement (PPA). This allows churches to pay a fixed rate for electricity and receive all the benefits of installing solar panels on their roofs. When choosing a PPA, choosing a reputable partner with a track record of reliability and quality customer service is important. This is especially important if your congregation will be leasing the system for 20 years or more, as the company’s reliability and service will affect the amount of savings you can achieve.
- Reduced Carbon Footprint
A solar energy system can reduce your church’s carbon footprint by replacing expensive fossil fuels with renewable and green alternatives. Not only does this help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it also saves money on utility bills. Moreover, solar systems don’t require any maintenance or repair, so churches can use them for years and decades to come. This means they can provide a long-term solution to climate change.
Another way to lower your church’s carbon footprint is by reducing electricity consumption. This can be done through upgrades to lighting, heating, and cooling systems, as well as new appliances or other energy-efficient equipment. The United Methodist Church has a number of resources available that can guide your church’s energy management efforts. One is the Energy Star Action Workbook for Congregations 2014, which is a comprehensive resource and planning guide. It offers tips for clergy, staff, and laity to improve energy efficiency in churches.
Additionally, many dioceses across the United States are working to achieve “net zero” energy consumption in their buildings and are using a tool called the Energy Footprint Tool. This online calculator allows parishes to enter energy returns and calculate their carbon footprint. This will give the church a baseline for energy consumption and a way to track progress toward carbon neutrality. It can also be used as a communication tool to educate the community about how energy is used in your congregation’s building and to encourage upgrades that reduce your footprint.
It can also be useful for tracking the environmental impact of activities and events held at your church. For example, if you host an event at your church that uses a lot of energy, such as a concert or a large holiday party, measure and analyze the energy usage of those events to improve the sustainability of future activities. If you’re interested in learning more about reducing your church’s carbon footprint, you can find plenty of resources on the Internet. Some helpful places include Hopeful Earth, Eco-Justice Ministries, and GreenFaith. These websites offer ideas to get your congregation involved in creation care and provide ways to engage people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds in faith-based sustainability initiatives.
- Increased Stewardship
Solar energy systems can provide a variety of benefits to schools and communities, including emergency shelters, small power supplies that keep lights on in the event of natural disasters, and a means for educating students about clean energy. These programs are also great for building community and strengthening local economies. In addition, solar energy systems can help with increased stewardship of the environment through their ability to reduce waste at the end of their life. The amount of unwanted solar panels disposed of in landfills can be significantly reduced through PV recycling. This can avoid a 60-million-ton global waste legacy within the next 10 to 30 years that is expected from solar panels that are no longer in use.
The amount of reusable solar panels on the market has increased over the last few years as solar panel manufacturers have become more aware of their environmental impacts and have developed materials and designs that make it easier for PV to be recycled. This is a major step forward in the solar industry, and SETO is supporting these efforts through our research and partnerships with other stakeholders. One of the primary reasons this kind of recycling is so important is that solar panels contain weatherproof polymers that are toxic when incinerated, releasing hydro-fluorite gas, which can severely irritate the eyes and cause headaches, nausea, and pulmonary edema. These dangerous elements can be prevented from being released using materials with fewer chemicals or making them more durable to withstand heat and moisture.
Another benefit that solar offers to schools is the ability to reduce utility bills. In the long term, this can provide substantial savings for school districts and communities that are able to switch over to solar. Solar can also help reduce the risk of water shortages that often accompany extreme weather events. Decentralized solar PV water pumps can replace more expensive diesel pumps, and mini grids can power filtration technologies to produce clean drinking water. These are just a few of the ways that solar can be incorporated into a holistic approach to water management that ensures safe and reliable access to water for all.