Transitioning society’s energy systems is a critical step for all countries in decarbonizing. Luckily, we have all the technologies we need to take this step. A 2018 report by the Energy Innovation think tank found that wind and solar technologies are now cheaper than 74 percent of coal costs in the United States, and this percentage is projected to keep rising. The same trend is also evident in a number of other industrialized nations, including India, China, Germany, and Japan. Nevertheless, according to the Climate Action Tracker website, only two countries, Morocco and Gambia, are currently on track to meet the 1.5 °C Paris Agreement goal.
While energy companies and utilities have an outsized role to play in the transition to renewable energy, communities and congregations are also key players. According to the Hartford Institute, there are roughly 350,000 religious congregations in the United States alone. What can we do to help them understand their energy use and associated carbon footprint? How can this knowledge facilitate their own implementation of renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures?
Elisa Graffy, a professor at Arizona State University, asked these critical questions when she founded the Sustainable Energy, Education, and Knowledge-sharing (SEEK) project. Prof. Graffy leverages existing resources to reduce barriers to entry for congregations willing to explore an energy transition. Step 1 is to benchmark the congregation’s facility using EPA’s Portfolio Manager program, helping track energy use over time. Step 2 is an energy audit. And step 3 is embarking on an ongoing program to implement audit recommendations. With this method, congregations can typically achieve 25-30 percent reductions in energy use. The associated monetary savings can then be funneled into programs supporting the congregation’s mission.
Congregational Greening is one of the Parliament's Climate Commitments Project’s four commitment areas for religious and spiritual communities. We track congregations around the world to understand where greening commitments are happening on the ground. The Parliament is working in partnering with SEEK to help expand these tools to an international audience.
Below are just a few examples of current Congregational Greening success stories:
• The Munsterschwarzach Abbey in Bavaria is 1,200 years old and has been carbon negative for 20 years, meaning its activities remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they add.
• Five Sikh Gurdwaras in India have installed solar panels with a capacity of 3 MW, which will meet 70% of their total energy needs.
• Mayflower Church in Minneapolis, MN has installed 204 solar panels, which generate 30% of their facility’s energy and help avoid more than 40 percent of carbon emissions. Mayflower is saving approximately $4,000–$5,000 on electric costs annually.
Learn more about SEEK and other resources on the upcoming webinar Tools to Guide Congregations and Communities Through the Energy Transition hosted by the Security and Sustainability Forum in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Arizona State University, and the Parliament of the World's Religions.