St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church now has the ability to harness the sun.
In recent days, the church, located in Southeastern Athens-Clarke County, installed a 7.5-kilowatt solar array that will be used to generate energy that will help to significantly lower the church’s energy costs.
A main purpose of the solar array, though, is to make the church a better steward of the environment. And it also will allow more of the church’s resources to go toward helping those in need instead of toward power bills, said Andrew Lane – also known as “Captain Planet” – chairman of the Green Guild/Creation Keepers at St. Gregory the Great.
St. Gregory is the first church in Athens, and just the third in the state of Georgia, to install a sizable solar array to create electricity, according to Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, an interfaith ministry devoted to deepening the connection between ecology and faith that works to help people of faith recognize and fulfill their responsibility for the stewardship of creation.
Installation of the solar array at St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church by Atlanta-based Hannah Solar was made possible with a $15,000 anonymous donation made to the church several months ago. Parishioners stepped up and matched that donation, giving the church the money it needed for the solar-panel project.
With the installation, St. Gregory is following in the footsteps of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Decatur, where a 4.7-kilowatt solar system was installed in February 2010. Since then, the system at Holy Trinity has generated 14,565 kilowatt-hours of electricity, enough energy to power 518 houses for one day, according to the Decatur church’s website.
Solar installations are part of an effort in the Episcopal Church to become more environmentally aware. Several years ago, the church established Creation Keepers, an effort that educates church members on ways to take action to conserve energy and protect the natural world.
“The sun shines every day,” Lane said in talking about St. Gregory’s newly installed solar panels. “Even on an overcast day, where it looks like it’s going to rain any second, you still get a 40 percent yield off of your panels. Every day that the sun shines, we are provided with more energy than all of the fossil fuels we have dug out of the Earth and burned. That’s how much energy the sun delivers – we just have to be able to harness it, collect it and utilize it.”
According to Lane, a particularly advantageous feature of St. Gregory’s solar array is that each individual panel includes a micro-inverter. Inverters convert direct-current electricity into the alternating-current electricity used to power homes, businesses and other structures.
In the past, solar panels worked together to get raw power to a single large inverter. This became a problem, because when a single panel was shaded or otherwise obstructed, none of the panels would work. Micro-inverters allow each panel to operate independently. Also, having micro-inverters in each panel means that when St. Gregory adds more panels in the future, it can do so without the additional cost of changing out a single large inverter.
“(Solar energy is) wiser than fracking water or air into the Earth and causing earthquakes and other things to happen to people in that local area,” Lane said. “Some people think that nuclear power is good, but the nuclear waste they generate has to be transported or dealt with somehow, and if something bad happened to the power plant, it wouldn’t be good for the people near it, like Chernobyl.”
In the future, Lane said, the St. Gregory congregation will look into installing a solar water heater in an effort to save even more energy.
“Mechanisms that heat or cool are the most energy-consuming,” he said, “so finding ways to use the solar panels and the electricity they create to help heat and cool water or a refrigerator and other appliances would be good for the environment. (The sun) really is a gift, and if we have the ability and the finances to capture and harness it, it can be beneficial for many reasons.”