St Martin's Finham installs new solar panels

St Martin's Finham have installed solar panels outside their church hall that are adjustable according to the season to maximise the amount of solar energy captured. We interview the Revd Matt Taylor about the project.

What was the main reason why you wanted to get solar panels?

We believe in the importance of creation care as a Christian community and have been a registered Eco Church, with a Bronze award, achieved in 2017. As a part of our community connection projects, we were looking to open a high street style coffee shop with an ethos to minimise its carbon footprint, including growing some of its own produce, so with that in mind we believed that it was now the time to invest in a solar solution. For structural reasons, the panels could not be fixed to the roof of our hall and so we sought out a ground-based rocker solution which can allow the angle of the panels to be moved manually through the seasons to get the best from the sun’s rays.

How did you fund the project?

Unfortunately at first we struggled to get funding for all our projects. We were told that we would make money out of the panels and the grant we first tried to access rejected our application. We were going ahead with the coffee shop anyway and decided to commit it all to prayer. Within a few days we received an anonymous cheque for £17k for the solar panels which kickstarted the project. Since then we have received the full amount through grants from The Golden Bottle Trust, Heart of England Community Foundation, including Community Energy Warwickshire and a considerable amount of personal donations from our congregation.

How was the application process to get solar panels? 

Faculty approval was granted in the summer and then we needed to apply to Coventry City Council for planning permission. Because our solar panel system is unique in the CofE, we found that we had to help educate those we were applying to during the process as to the sort of system it is. We also decided to install batteries as the best way of storing and then using the power in the evenings in our halls, rather than using energy from the grid at that time which is when purchasing power from the grid is more expensive.

How has having solar panels affected your energy bills?

Too early to tell at present; the system we have should cater for a large proportion of our needs including a busy coffee shop and we will be able to sell the excess to the grid. It's 48 panels which potentially can generate 14,000Kw a year.

What advice would you give to other churches looking to undertake a similar project? 

Take time researching, ensure you have a project leader who is the central point, be aware that you and often those you are speaking with are still learning about this new technology, and use the resources provided by the Church of England, such as their Net Zero Carbon webinars.

Most importantly, be aware that the Ecclesiastical Insurance Organisation will only give very basic insurance (Public Liability) for a ground based system because there is no adequate market guide to risk. There is a reluctance currently across the Insurance market, some of which is due to this lack of knowledge, to insure solar panels and battery systems. 

You will need to build some physical protection costs (e.g. for security fencing) into your budget if the array is ground based but we believe the benefits outweigh the difficulties, particularly if you adopt a rocker system which allows you to orientate your panels to optimise light uptake by the panels throughout the seasons.

First published on: 3rd May 2023
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