Saving energy is one of the key elements in the move to a more sustainable use of resources and care for the environment. Churches are typically large, old, listed buildings with intermittent patterns of use, and so can easily waste a lot of energy. In late 1978, the Church of Scotland took the pioneering step of tackling its energy use by launching probably the world’s first energy efficiency scheme for churches and related buildings. The impetus came for its Society, Religion and Technology Project, and began with sending energy efficiency guidelines, letters and publicity sheets to Church of Scotland Presbyteries and office bearers, and also to some Scottish Episcopal and other churches. Some 3000 churches in Scotland were made aware of the scheme. In 1980, the administration of the scheme passed to the General Trustees department of the Church of Scotland at 121 George Street, Edinburgh, where Mr. Robert Lindores is the contact person.
By August 1980, about 173 surveys had been done or applied for (about 5%), and about 3 times that number applying for details. Surveys then implied that an average saving of about 20% was possible, and the possibility of saving £0.5M out of £2.5M spent annually by the church on heating and lighting. The results of the first 120 were written up in the SRT booklet “Make the Most of It”. As the scheme developed, this was updated in 1986 by “Making Even More of It”, and then in 1994, the consultants distilled 15 years experience into the book “Heat and Light - A Practical Guide to Energy Conservation in Church Buildings”, published by St.Andrew Press, £1.95.
Before the scheme the energy management of church premises was generally poor. A few showed high levels of awareness and efficiency, showing what could be done in the others. Most of the savings have been through the better management and maintenance of the existing heating system and buildings, matching heating surface to heating requirements, by removing unnecessary surfaces (e.g. corridors, porches) and by draught control. Insulation can help a lot, but it is often costly.
By 1995 about 1200 initial and repeat surveys have been done. Most of theses have been Church of Scotland premises but includes a few Episcopal and other churches. An analysis was made of 103 cases which had come up for 5-yearly property inspection, where surveys had been done. The energy costs before and after implementing the survey recommendations were predicted and then compared with the actual energy costs. Nearly 60% were making substantial savings compared with doing nothing. This is encouraging, but still points to great scope for more to be done to save energy in the churches. About half of the recent surveys have been re-surveys, and it has remained quite difficult to get congregations which have not yet had surveys to appreciate the significance of having one. There are renewed efforts to increase the use of the scheme.
Since this pioneering work, many churches in other parts of Europe have begun similar schemes, notably in Germany and Sweden. But it is clear that much more could be done, saving both the churches’ energy bills and also helping to play our part in sustainable energy use in God’s creation.