York Minster is on its way to become Britain’s first ever net-zero cathedral

Britain is on its way to its first ever net-zero cathedral, as York Minster moves to install 199 solar panels. The project received approval from the City of York Council and the Cathedrals Fabric Commission and is set to be the largest installation of its type on any cathedral in the UK.  

The panels will be installed on the roof of the Minsters South Quire Aisle, which dates back to 1361, in addition to the previous installation of solar tiles to the Precincts Refectory, which is currently producing 11,000 kWh per year.  

The project will significantly increase this capacity, expected to generate 75,000 kWh of power each year, sufficient to power the Minster’s daytime electricity needs. Surplus energy will be stored in an underground battery storage unit to power the venues’ evening services and events.  

One solar panel inside the cathedral will display the project’s energy production and carbon savings. The intention is to promote the importance of the project and decarbonisation to the thousands of visitors that York Minster attracts.

The project has been designed to be sensitive to the cathedral’s historic architecture, with the panels barely visible from ground level, thus maintaining the building’s heritage values.  

However, the decision has received backlash from residents, who described the project as ‘absurd’ and ‘wrong’, with users stating that solar panels are not appropriate for use everywhere.  

Last year a survey by the Church of England found that one-third of cathedrals and churches already had solar panels on site. Additionally, seven per cent of churches in the UK have already achieved carbon neutrality – The York Minster could become the first cathedral to join them.

Another contender is Newcastle Cathedral, after reducing its emissions through an electric air-source heat pump and LED lighting. Other cathedrals have taken steps to become environmentally friendly, with St Paul’s cathedral choosing to harvest rainwater and Canterbury cathedral installing a ground-source heat pump.  

York Minster will join numerous other cathedrals that have installed solar panels, including Bradford Cathedral, Gloucester Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral and Chester Cathedral.  

These energy-saving renovations reflect the Church of England’s Net Zero Strategy, which requires all cathedrals to switch to 100% clean electricity by the end of 2024 and for net-zero carbon emissions to be achieved by 2030.  

Additionally, from 2025 onwards, new oil boilers cannot be installed, and low-carbon heating options must be considered whilst energy-saving measures, including draught-proofing are recommended. 

The Dean of York, the Very Reverend Dominic Barrington, said: “The Church of England has pledged to be net zero by 2030 and we are proud to be playing a significant role in not only helping to achieve this vision, but also inspiring other cathedrals to follow suit. We are incredibly pleased that City of York Council has recognised the importance of this intervention not just for the Minster, but for the wider city”. 

While Alex McCallion, Director of Works and Precinct at York Minster added “We thank City of York Council, Historic England, and the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England for their partnership working in helping to deliver these ambitions as we all find our way to address the climate emergency, which is currently the greatest threat to the fabric of our historic Minster.” 

Check out our blog on how Tokyo plans to reach its carbon targets to read more on solar panels.

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