Photo of Gloucester Cathedral looking through an arch
Gloucester Cathedral installed photovoltaic (PV) panels for energy generation © Historic England
Gloucester Cathedral installed photovoltaic (PV) panels for energy generation © Historic England

Solar Power Reduces Energy Use at Gloucester Cathedral

One option for reducing the carbon used by a building during its lifetime is to install renewable energy technologies. Many newer buildings take advantage of renewable energy options, but with careful thought and a bit of creativity they can also be used on our historic buildings.

Gloucester Cathedral is a magnificent Grade I listed building dating back to the 11th century. But tucked away on the roof of the nave is a slice of the 21st century – 150 solar panels. They generate around 25% of the cathedral’s energy usage and contribute to its carbon reduction targets which respond to the Church of England’s Shrinking the Footprint programme.

The concept

Cathedral Architect Antony Feltham-King recognised that Gloucester might be able to install solar panels when he carried out his first Church of England quinquennial inspection in 2009. The pitch of the roof, relatively high parapet and fairly modern roofing materials on the nave combined to create an opportunity.

The need to rectify a defect at the ridge of the lead roofing, where the metal was beginning to crack, gave the impetus for the project. The new ridge detail is a perfect securing point for a metal frame which, resting on soft pads against the lead, supports the solar panels.

Three years of preparatory work (2011–2014) informed the work to ensure that the cathedral could make the best case for the project and respond to likely challenges. For example, Antony Feltham-King carried out extensive work to develop an innovative and light-touch fixing method and to gather evidence that the solar panels would not be visible from various sites in and around Gloucester.

This careful foresight paid off. The cathedral received enormous support for the solar panel project: from the initial support of the cathedral’s Fabric Advisory Committee (FAC) and Friends of Gloucester Cathedral, to visitors, designers and contractors. Everyone has been enthusiastic about finding the best design and developing innovative solutions to the challenge.

Project delivery

Installation of the solar panels has been part of the wider ‘Project Pilgrim’ to conserve and make the best use of the Cathedral’s building and grounds in order to improve sustainability and provide all types of visitor with an improved experience.

The first phase of Project Pilgrim is nearing completion, with an overall cost of £5.6 million - including approximately £100,000 for the solar panels and associated lead repair, re-guttering, scaffolding, and so on. The cathedral received nearly £4.5 million in National Lottery Heritage Fund (The Fund, previously ‘Heritage Lottery Fund’) grant funding and other funds were raised from trusts and private donors.

The cathedral ran a ‘sponsor a solar panel’ scheme, which raised about half the funding for the panels and their installation. The idea for this came from a survey of stakeholders about the project, where a chance question about fundraising for the panels received a hugely positive response.

Without a grant from The Fund, the cathedral would not have been able to carry out ‘Project Pilgrim’ as envisaged. The focus for any resource would have been fabric repair, such as the conservation of the Lady Chapel, rather than a more holistic and outward facing project designed to engage with the public, enhance visitor experience and improve sustainability.

The cathedral has a strong working relationship with The Fund and from the very start of the project has engaged in a creative dialogue with them to learn from their broad experience and develop the best way forward to achieve the aims of both organisations.

The project team recognise that unique circumstances have allowed for the addition of solar panels, but want to promote the idea that creative and innovative thinking is possible and necessary when dealing with the sustainability of such an important medieval building.

Gloucester Cathedral’s live energy savings data shows the extent of the power generation, even on cloudy days. As well as the solar panels, Gloucester Cathedral buys green energy to meet the rest of its energy needs, and is reviewing options to upgrade its lighting system, conserve heat and reduce energy wasted via draughts. This will help to reduce energy consumption and support the Shrinking the Footprint campaign, which has a carbon reduction target of 80% by 2050.