Conducting an Energy Audit in your Congregation

Conducting an Energy Audit in your Congregation

“Everything we have comes from God. What we do with it is an act of discipleship. We have a responsibility to use the Earth’s resources in a way that does not jeopardise the integrity of the Earth and the enjoyment of it by future generations.”

So begins the introduction to the Energy Audit Handbook, part of the Five Leaf Eco Awards.

Our Gymea-Miranda congregation used a bit of “down time” during the Covid pandemic to have a look at energy use in our buildings and determine whether there were savings to be made both in financial and emissions terms. It was essential to have a tool to guide us through the process and we used this one as it was designed specifically for churches, but there are others available online and professional energy auditors are also available.

How to Do It

The Handbook advises to “get a team together” prior to embarking on the audit. We are fortunate to have an electrical engineer in our congregation and from my non-technical perspective it was invaluable to have someone with background knowledge, skills and interest to help with the process. For those with minimal understanding of energy terminology, reading of meters and such-like, there is an introductory section to help you. You will need a list of all the activities on your premises which use power and also your energy bills (for us it was only electricity; for others gas also needs to be considered) going back two years. This helps you work out your baseline and seasonal energy use.

Heating/cooling and hot water are the main energy users in a typical Uniting Church property so the next step is a walk-through site inspection looking at passive building features such as the construction of the buildings and active features such as heaters, cooling systems, hot water systems, lighting, and appliances. This is where it gets a bit technical as you need to record not just the number of these items but the amount of energy which is used by each type when they are in use. (This is stated on the appliance itself.)

The next step is to calculate which appliances are used – and for how long – during a typical winter or summer week (e.g. heaters only on in winter; ceiling fans on in summer) taking into account hall hiring patterns and other variables. Adding it all up, you arrive at: total energy use in kWh per year, CO2 equivalent emissions per year, and financial cost per year. (Note: we used the second edition of the Handbook which quotes a rate of 15c per kWh. This is around half of today’s rate; you should use the rate you actually pay for power when calculating costs. This will be shown on your bill under “Charges”; for example, 28 c/kWh.)

Results

Our total energy usage was 4959 kWh per year, costing approximately $1900 and producing 6.9 tonnes of CO2.

For us, the category with the highest usage (and therefore costs) was interior lights (27 percent), followed by heating (23 percent), urns and kettles (15 percent), security lights (14 percent), hot water (13 percent) and fridges (4 percent).

Proposed Changes

Working out what changes to make is a balance between what is possible and what costs are associated with the changes. For example, to change our hot water system to off peak power would have saved on running costs but would have involved installing a new power circuit under a concrete slab between the meter box and the hot water system. This was prohibitive for our congregation.

We therefore recommended three measures to our Church Council:

  • Replace all the fluorescent tubes in our buildings with more efficient LED tubes (using existing battens)
  • Replace the fluorescent tubes in our security lights with LEDs and change the settings on the timer controlling these lights.
  • Turn off the second fridge when it’s not in use.

We estimated that this would save 1118 kWh (>20 percent), 1.6 tonnes of CO2, and $324 per annum. It was anticipated that the up-front costs of making these changes (cost of electrician, LED tubes etc) would be $1100 and financial costs would be recouped within 3 years while emission reductions would start immediately after installation. However, we subsequently discovered the NSW Energy Savings Scheme (Ph 9290 8452) which actually provided the suitably registered electrician AND new LED battens and tubes for a total cost to our congregation of $33.00!

Summary

Our church building is 50+ years old and improvements have been made piecemeal over the years. Undertaking a comprehensive energy audit gave us a lot of information about usage and costs which had previously been unrecognised. Some improvements in energy savings can be made with minimal up-front costs and the NSW Energy Savings Scheme (open to both residential and businesses) meant our costs were virtually zero yet we reduced our usage by over 20 percent and reduced our emissions by 1.6 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Making changes following an audit can improve a congregation’s financial situation at the same time as improving our God-given stewardship of the planet. Another win-win!

Gillian Minto

Gymea-Miranda Uniting Church and member of the Church and Individual Emission Task Group (Synod Climate Action Strategy)

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