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Church sets eco-friendly example

Some of the 124 panels on the roof of the Augustinian convent in Rabat. They have been designed to be easily accessible and capable of withstanding gale-force winds.

Some of the 124 panels on the roof of the Augustinian convent in Rabat. They have been designed to be easily accessible and capable of withstanding gale-force winds.

In Malta there are many Church properties. So if these properties were all powered by solar energy, not only would substantial amounts of money be saved by the respective parishes and provinces in the Maltese diocese, but there would be a considerable positive impact on the environment. In this way, the diocese would be contributing to caring for what Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si’, called “our common home”.

An example of this is the Augustinian convent in Rabat. In 2015, solar panels were installed on this convent as part of a project to advance the use of ecological technology in the Augustinian province. Other convents in Tarxien, Valletta and Victoria also took part in the project. While implementing the project the Augustinians also did their best to preserve the historic and beautiful architecture of the convents.

In total, the Rabat convent has 124 panels on the church and the convent. Project co-ordinator Fr Pierre Desira OSA, said the 124 solar panels will prevent around 20,500kg of carbon dioxide emissions, thus contributing to the reduction of the greenhouse effect.

Moreover, the panels will generate 52,000 units of electricity annually, saving money and bringing the convent’s electricity bills almost to a zero. Extra units generated will be sold to the national supplier. This will have a beneficial effect on the Augustinian province’s finances.

Through the project a total of 492 panels were installed in the four convents. Although the panels are expensive it is expected that the capital outlay will be recovered within the next eight years and the panels have a projected life span of around 25 years.

The authors conducted an investigation as to whether the possibility of installing solar panels on other Church buildings was being considered. A total of 69 parishes were contacted. Replies were obtained from 35 parishes: Thirteen parishes said they have solar panels on Church buildings. Of these, three parishes did not specify how many panels they have. Altogether, the other 10 parishes have a total of 237 solar panels.

Ten religious orders, besides the Augustinian province, were also contacted. Four orders replied to the enquiry, three of which said they have solar panels. Of these, one religious order did not specify the number of solar panels, another order said it has a total of 200 panels and the third has 144 panels in all.

A spokesperson for the Maltese Curia said 35 parishes are currently benefitting from a project partly funded by the EU through which 1,240 solar panels were installed. The spokesperson added that other parishes have installed solar panels independently from this project. These include Stella Maris parish, Sliema, San Gaetano parish, ─Žamrun, and parishes run by a number of religious orders.

The panels on the Rabat convent have a 20 degree tilt so as not tobe visible from street level. The panels on the Rabat convent have a 20 degree tilt so as not tobe visible from street level. 

The Interdiocesan Commission for the Environment, among others matters, “promotes responsibility and ethics in safeguarding the environment, defines policies for those responsible in the Church in environmental issues and offers technical and scientific suggestions to Church authorities on matters concerning the environment”.

The commission believes that Maltese society seems to be on the right track, but there is still a lot to be done.

A commission spokesman said the Maltese Church should be the light that shows the way. By installing photovoltaic systems the Church would be contributing towards the care of “our common home”. Hence, all possible sites should be explored and, where it is found that installing photovoltaic systems does not reduce the architectural value of the building, such installation should be considered.

It is very clear that there is a great potential for using ecclesiastical property for installing solar panels. The Curia, together with a number of parishes and religious orders, are leading the way in this respect.

It is recommended that a concerted effort be made to extend installation to as many Church buildings as possible, taking into consideration the architectural and historical value of each site. The possibility of more grants specifically for this purpose should be sought.

Some parishes or religious orders may also consider leasing the roof space of their buildings to other entities for the installation of solar panels. The possibility of installing such panels should also be taken into consideration when planning and designing any new Church buildings. In this way the local Church would really be a guiding light towards an eco-friendly diocese.

Sun spots

• Photovoltaic cells transform light energy into electricity.

• Solar energy is free of charge and needs no fuel, thus no waste or pollution is produced. It is a renewable energy source, meaning it can be replaced and will never run out.

• Because of its sunny, Mediterranean climate, Malta is an ideal place for the use of solar panels.

• Many subsidies have been granted by the government to promote this source of energy, thus making solar panels very popular throughout the Maltese islands.

• The EU has set for 20 per cent of its energy to be from renewable energy sources by 2020 for the EU as a whole. For Malta, the target is 10 per cent of energy production by 2020.

The authors are Year 8 students at St Augustine College, Pietà. This article was written as part of Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) – Malta.

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