Norwich UEA academic wants to put solar panels on every Norfolk church roof to provide green energy

St Mary the Virgin church in Hillington, Norfolk.
Seing the light? The former MEP wants to see solar panels on every church roof in Norfolk Credit: ITV News Anglia

A professor is calling for the roof of every church in Norfolk to be covered in solar panels.

The county has 650 churches, and according to one tourism site boasts "greatest concentration of churches in the world".

Now Professor Catherine Rowett, a former Green MEP and a professor at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, wants to said install panels on local churches for community energy use.

She described it as a "win-win situation" for all involved.

The idea was floated at a recent debate organised by the Norwich Society, where Prof Rowett said: "I had a project which hasn't borne much fruit yet but maybe will, to work to get solar panels on the roofs of all churches in all villages in Norfolk - because every church has a huge, south-facing roof.

"There are very good systems that you can get that are compatible with heritage regulations and you could have community minibuses that are charged from these things.

"It would be a win-win situation and would create a really good outcome for every community that had such a thing."

In comments this week, Prof Rowett explained that she began looking into the concept towards the end of her time as an MEP, and that she would ideally like to return to it at some stage.

"It was partly in light of a report I'd had done [called Energising the East], and that had proposed community energy projects," she said.

"I wrote to all the Church of England dioceses [in the East], and I got some responses, and went to see the diocese [environmental] officer in Chelmsford."

Although the arrival of the Covid pandemic had slowed down the project's progress, Prof Rowett said some promising solar initiatives had been started in parts of the region, albeit with relatively few in Norfolk so far.

She added churches could strive to become not just carbon-neutral, but provide energy benefits to the communities they serve too, such as through electric minibuses.

The idea of installing panels on churches was welcomed this week by the Diocese of Norwich - whose Bishop, Graham Usher, has been appointed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby as Lead Bishop for the Environment.

Barbara Bryant, a member of the diocese's environment working group, said: "Solar panels could be appropriate for rural churches in slightly larger settlements, in market towns and urban areas.

"There are many things to take into consideration, such as cost, maintenance and preserving the heritage of what are mostly listed buildings.

"However, churches have always been adapted down the centuries and this is the challenge for today's worshippers to find ways to enable this ongoing change to happen sustainably."

Recently the church has helped spread the availability of rural broadband by putting wifi masts on church towers.

The idea of churches and other religious buildings playing host to solar panels is not a completely new one.

Gloucester and Salisbury's cathedrals have had panels loaded on their rooftops since 2016 and 2020, respectively.

Gloucester Cathedral. Credit: PA Images

Meanwhile in Norfolk, the Rt Rev Graham Usher, the Bishop of Norwich, has recently launched a consultation to consider new ways of utilising some of the county's less-used churches.

As a former ecologist, and the Anglican church's lead on the environment, Bishop Usher has been tasked with finding innovative ways to respond to climate change - raising the question of whether solar projects could be included among them.