The messaging around taking better care of the environment can be confusing. Should we recycle more? Fly less? Buy less? Should we be demanding more from industry and politicians? The truth is humanity is living unsustainably and we are seeing this reflected quite drastically in the environment. Spiritualism reminds us of personal responsibility. This doesn’t let unsustainable industries off the hook, but it does at least give us the opportunity to look at what we can do, and feel more empowered to act. 2020 was to be the SNU’s Year of the Environment, but you might guess what stole our attention instead. We will regroup and try again for 2021! However, the need for environmental care has not gone away, and as a Union, we need to keep focussing on this every year.

At Croydon SNU Church responsibility for the environment has brought other benefits too. Church President Alan Seymour CSNU LSSNU told us about the reasoning behind their project of fitting solar panels to their roof, “Croydon Church decided to have Solar panels for reasons of potential money savings and also in response to the Minister David Bruton’s address at the 2019 AGM suggesting all churches should consider the environment when making decisions.” How did they begin? “We obtained five quotes from Solar Panel installers,” he tells us, “The church committee decided to use UK Solar Generation as they were consistently helpful and had many 5 star reviews on independent websites.” It had been a close call between this and another supplier, but Alan tells us that the nearest competitor hiked up the cost during and after lockdown. Of course, church committees will understand the need to obtain at least three estimates for works of this nature, but rather than being a hoop to jump through this process of comparing estimates ensured best value for the church and its members. In the end, he says, “The cost was £8045 for fifteen 310W solar panels including one 6.5kWh battery which was chosen because it was sufficient for the church’s needs.”

Alan shares a little advice about the selection part of the process. He found the amount of information obtained quite mind-boggling and difficult to compare, and suggests not trying to handle too much information at once unless you have a head for figures. “There was an unexpected additional cost of £1000,” he adds, “for an application to the local council for planning permission as the church is in a conservation area. This is the cost of the services of an architect plus the cost of the application for planning permission.” The fitting of solar panels is rather a specialist thing to do, and so we can see from the work done at Croydon a methodical approach is required.

The treasurers among us will be interested in the figures. As part of the process Croydon looked at previous year’s electricity costs. For the three years starting at 2017, the annual bills were £606, £635 and £452. The last figure is a noticeable drop from the previous year, but tells an interesting story about small changes making significant differences. “The reduction in the electricity bill in 2019,” Alan explains, “is largely due to the church replacing all light bulbs with LED ones and removing light switches in our three toilets and replacing them with sensors. This solved the problem of lights being left on during services and sometimes overnight.” 

We were keen to hear about the financial impact of the solar panels now that they have been fitted, and asked Alan about the maths. He tells us, “The electricity bill will be reduced by up to £400 per year, plus approximately 7% per annum projected increase in energy prices, particularly as we will use the solar panels to charge a battery which will be used to power the church during evening events.” This is just the short-term, however, and this kind of project has to demonstrate longevity in order to earn its sustainable stripes. Alan has calculated that the payback time will be 13 years, and says, “If we continue the calculation through to a total of 25 years (the guaranteed lifespan of the solar panels), the projected benefit to the church will be £38,874 assuming an annual increase of 7% on energy bills.” Let’s not forget than any excess energy flows back into the grid, and contributes to more renewable energy being available. This will all be renewable energy from the sun, but also highlights an area where more small behaviour changes can demonstrate personal responsibility in the context of supporting both church and environment. Alan points out, ”If people can be encouraged to boil kettles for washing up water instead of using hot water generated by the gas central heating boiler, this will save on the gas bill.” It will also be a switch from an unsustainable source of energy too. Even washing up has the potential to make a difference (with eco-friendly washing up liquid, of course!) “Whether this is a practical suggestion depends on the willingness of people to act on it,” he says. But we hope that this win-win situation is convincing enough to make people want to switch. 

No project runs entirely smoothly. In this case, Alan shares with us, “We had a hole in the ceiling, made by the electrician when he lost his footing in the loft while connecting the electric cables. This was repaired at a later date. Fortunately, lockdown meant that the church was closed so no one was hurt, and no one saw the damage.” 

Croydon Church has clearly done its homework, and taken a careful and considered approach to the installation of solar panels. Having found the numbers stack up in a positive way demonstrated that sustainability needn’t be out of reach. It also paves the way for other buildings, churches or not, to consider this option to invest in reducing environmental impact and financial cost. Even if solar panels are not a realistic option for a church building, this story reminds us that even smaller positive changes contribute to the bigger picture. Now 2020 is over we’re all hoping for sunnier times ahead, and when they arrive in Croydon they will make an empowering difference.

Visit Croydon SC's website