The Tea & PV project in Yorkshire North & East

30 August 2023

The Yorkshire North & East Methodist District is leading the pathway towards Net Zero for the 200+ churches in its care. The current project is called Tea & PV, the PV being photovoltaic panels, commonly known as solar panels, that convert light into electricity. These are being installed on selected churches across this part of Yorkshire and showcasing them to promote solar panels and the Net Zero objective.

A few years ago, the district had an audit of all its churches through a consultancy called Project Rome, led by Prof. Simon Pringle, a sustainability specialist. The rural and suburban churches were audited by architects working for the Rural Community Energy Fund. The data they gathered was instrumental in planning the Net Zero pathway, starting to improve buildings and applying for grants.

The Tea & PV project that resulted from this work was facilitated by a £100,000 grant from Centrica’s Energy for Tomorrow fund which helped them to install the solar panels. “We wanted to explore not just what solar panels did, in terms of cash, or net zero, but how they could be installed in different settings,” explains Adele Borrowman, the district Grant Fundraising Enabler.

The district reached out to seven churches. “We want to be able to see how the panels fit on different building types and how we communicate the benefits across the different communities that they're in,” adds Adele. These churches are pillars in their communities, often used extensively by local and national organisations.

The seven churches selected for the first round of Tea & PV are across the spectrum from urban to rural, recent and old buildings (even though they all had few planning constraints) and are of various sizes. “We hope that people from any Methodist church would identify with one of those building or community types,” says Adele. The seven churches are the rural Littlebeck and Robin Hood's Bay, the suburban Hedon and Portholme in Selby, the urban Acomb in York, Harrogate Road in Ripon and Queen Street in Scarborough.

Queen Street Scarborough was selected for its uniqueness: built as a cinema in case the church did not take off, the building is technically challenging to install solar panels on with its sloped, curving roof and window lights. “We know that if we can get solar panels on this building then there is a lot of scope for other places,” explains Adele. It is located in the top 2% of UK’s deprived areas and has an essential role in the local community. The financial savings due to the solar panels will make a massive difference.

Using this approach, the Yorkshire North & East District displays its creativity and savviness: by planning the installation of PV panels on several churches at once, as economies of scale allow them to spend less money as the order is bigger so it’s a win-win situation.

What about the Tea? Now that the solar panels are installed, the next step is to get data on screens inside the churches and get the message out there of how much electricity was generated.  Often the software displays this information by showing how it translates into trees being planted. Adele says, “In Methodist terms, we thought cups of tea were the best way of explaining this: the amount of energy it takes to brew one cup of tea is what we have been using to communicate the benefit of solar panels.

It is hoped the screens and their cups of tea will ignite conversation and encourage people to ask questions about the solar panels and other Net Zero related topics. The congregations and local communities will then be able to see how much difference the panels are making, one cup of tea at a time.