How the Church of England joined the race to Net Zero

James Fisher reports on a 21st century addition to one of Britain’s great medieval cathedrals.

Chester Cathedral has installed 206 rooftop solar panels, as announced earlier this month. Panels located on the south slope of the nave roof and column, and on the east slope of the south transept, are already producing electricity and have been paid for through a successful fundraising campaign. Chester Cathedral, with its earliest elements dating back to the 11th century, is Grade I listed and the plans have received the blessing of the Cathedral Fabric Commission, which reviews applications for work for cathedrals in England.

The introduction of panels on the roof of the church was “not without problems”. Historic building architects and consultants Donald Insall Associates were hired to carry out the work, which included protecting the fabric of the building and incorporating “major engineering interventions” into the listed building on a downtown conservation area. Structural engineers had to test if the roofs were capable of supporting the panels before the firm developed metal supports to hold the panels without penetrating or damaging the lead and copper roof.

The firm also paid tribute to Sir George Gilbert Scott, who remodeled the cathedral in the late 19th century, stating that its gabled parapets obscured much of the roof from view, thereby eliminating visual disturbance to the panels over 100 years later. The panels and their supports can be removed, which means the entire project is reversible. An analysis by Donald Insall Associates suggests that the solar energy system will generate 44,000 kWh each year, which “represents a savings of at least £130,000 in electricity costs over 20 years” and that the project will pay for itself in about seven years. .

“Historic buildings can and should play a leading role in climate change mitigation,” said Tony Barton, chairman of the board of directors of Donald Insall Associates. “The almost inconspicuous renovation of a Grade I listed building with solar panels demonstrates exactly what we advocated: creativity in conservation, accompanied by a degree of flexibility within a planning system that recognizes our responsibility as our built heritage. , and in front of the planet. We must ensure that historic buildings are not left behind in our race to achieve zero carbon.”

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Chester won’t hold its record for “the most solar panels on a church roof in the UK” for long, as King’s College Cambridge Chapel recently received permission to install 492 panels. Members of the Cambridge City Council voted in favor of the application despite City Planning Council staff recommending that it be rejected, calling the plans a “symbol” of climate change. The planners’ report stated that the panels would “detract” attention from the roof’s architecture and damage the view of the chapel. Council members disagreed, stating that the benefits of the scheme outweighed any harm and that, as in Chester, the scheme could be canceled if required without any damage to the Grade I listed building. According to plans, the panels will contribute to a 1.4% reduction in carbon consumption at King’s College Estate.

“As noted by the planning committee, the panels will have a minimal impact on the appearance of the chapel,” said Professor Michael Proctor, Chancellor of King’s College Chapel. “This will make a significant difference to the decarbonization process, meeting 100% of the building’s energy needs and reducing the college’s carbon emissions by more than 27 tons per year.”

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