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Sol Searching and Thermostat Theology

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Like many churches, First Unitarian Church has been challenged in new ways this year, with budgets and climate change ever in the forefront of our minds. Like many religious communities, when Covid was determined to be a real threat, First Unitarian was forced to hold zoom services and reduce our building use. As a result, a group of church members zoomed to discuss ways to cut costs and one suggestion was to cut back on our energy use.

As people of faith, we care deeply about this garden of Eden we call Earth, so we’ve engaged many efforts to reduce our carbon footprint over the last several years. But even with these efforts, in 2019 our energy use was 10% more than in 2017 and just 2% less than 2018. This increase in energy use as not because the measures we took were ineffective, but because we increased our building usage over that time, which led to increased energy use. So we knew we had to get serious! In late February 2020 we added more solar panels and still more in August.

With the pandemic-related changes, since the use of the building was reduced, we felt our energy use could be, too. We began to pay more attention to the programmable thermostats for each of our 10 HVAC units. We started to think of them as church lights: turn them on when you need them and turn them off when you don’t. We still had some office staff working in the building, and our local community ministry rents space at church, so their thermostats were left at a comfortable temperature during occupancy hours. However, the remaining hours and the rest of the thermostats were pre-set to 85 for the summer and 60 for the winter. When a room, sanctuary or the social hall is used outside of these schedules, the thermostats are raised/lowered for the period occupied, then when leaving are “Canceled”, returning them to the pre-set temperatures.

The results have been encouraging! As of the end of November 2020, First Unitarian Church reduced our overall Greenhouse Gasses (GHG) by 50,462lbs. Electric usage went down 30,770kWh (*1) over that same period, an astounding 43% reduction! We’ve seen $4,500 in savings on our energy bill, including $1264 on gas. Here are some of the numbers:

  • Solar generation increased in 2020 by 5,407kWh with the newest panels, contributing to peak percentage reductions of 66% and 67% in October and November, respectively.

  • Our electric use was down 40% from 10PM – 6:00AM (*2) in Jan. – Sept.2020 from the same period in 2019 – when the church is not used, lights are not on and solar is not generated. Thermostat adjustments and weather are the likely reasons.

  • Our gas usage was also reduced overall by 33% with a peak reduction, again in November, of 62%.

  • These numbers include 4 days of high building usage while being a Sanctuary church for the Black Lives Matter protesters in Louisville.

We will continue to track our usage to better understand the ways that solar, building use reductions, weather, and thermostat management impact these results.

The threat to our planet by human induced greenhouse gas emissions is unprecedented in the history of our species. We must act boldly. This has been a project of our church, from the Seventh Principle Team, to our Solar Array Project volunteers, and the many church participants who have donated and supported past and current efforts to reduce our carbon footprint (including solar panels, LED lights, and more!).

When life returns to “normal” after the emergency of the pandemic has passed, we don’t want our energy use to be taken for granted. As religious people, we feel it is our sacred duty to employ our given talents and technology to reduce our use of fossil fuels as much as possible.

(*1) Jan. – Nov. 2020 kWh: 40,284; Solar kWh: 9,601

Jan. – Nov. 2019 kWh: 71,284; Solar kWh: 4,194

(*2) Advanced Meter technology allows for an hourly evaluation of our electricity use

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