By Mireia Bonilla
The Diocese of Ourense is becoming a pioneer among Spanish dioceses in its firm commitment to renewable energy, taking up Pope Francis’ challenge to take greater care of our common home. In his encyclical Laudato sí, the Pope calls for concrete actions and decisions that show a willingness to move toward a new, more ecological lifestyle.
“We have concluded an agreement with the company SolGaleo that applies to various institutions in the diocese of Ourense, to ensure that the energy used in the activities of the local Church is ‘green energy,’ that is, obtained entirely from renewable sources,” explains Father Raúl Alfonso, the delegate for the economy of the Spanish diocese. The intention is for “the diocese to use energy that is as ethical in its production as possible.”
This agreement has already made it possible to change the supply from conventional to ‘green’ energy in 50 buildings and centres dependent on the diocese, including the bishop’s residence, the cathedral, the house for priests, the retreat house, and the San Martin conservation and restoration centre, as well as several rectories and various parishes. The ultimate goal is “to reach all the parishes in the diocese,” says Fr Raúl, “with the hope that all pastors will consider it appropriate to their circumstances and will coincide with their way of administering their own particular situation, but always taking into account the ethical criteria that move us to act in this way."
For its buildings, the Diocese of Ourense has opted to install solar panels to produce photovoltaic energy. “SolGaleo guarantees that 100 per cent of the energy supplied is green, ecological energy,” Fr Raúl affirms. The company, he said, is already studying various projects, “which it will then submit for our consideration. These projects will enable us, at no extra cost, to generate most of our energy requirements ourselves” – including, “where possible,” the energy needs of the most prominent structures in the diocese.
Conversion made possible
This conversion was possible thanks to a change in legislation that took place in Spain in 2019. The founder and president of SolGaleo, Germán Rodríguez-Saá, explains to Vatican News that this opening eliminated many of the obstacles that stood in the way of “self-consumption” – the idea of making it possible for consumers to generate the energy they need in their own environment – of no more than 500 square meters – in accordance with the constraints to which the site is subject, including solar radiation capacity, the impact of the wind, and the location of the building.
Rodríguez-Saá points out that Spain “is a country with many wind and solar resources,” but it has only recently embraced renewable energy, as a comparison with other European countries shows: “Although we have installed a photovoltaic self-consumption power of about 6 GW, in Germany they have almost 60 GW. It is paradoxical that a country that apparently has less sunshine has many more photovoltaic installations.”
On the other hand, in recent years, thanks to a series of competitive bidding, the renewable energy market has regained momentum in terms of installation, generation, and self-consumption. “In the last two years we have made significant and important progress because obstacles have been removed and decrees have been published and auctions have been held that favoured the installation of new wind and photovoltaic megawatt production centres: expectations are quite good,” says the founder of SolGaleo.
An economic commitment and our common home
Father Raúl explains that when studying the various possibilities for improving the supply of all kinds of products in the Church's institutions, “the economic sector is naturally assessed – but it is clear that the economic sector itself, within the Church, is bound up with the moral sphere.” With this initiative, Fr Raúl says, the diocese of Ourense intends to respond to the appeal Pope Francis has made in Laudato sí. He adds, “It is very important to be mindful of the necessity of caring for our common home when making economic and administrative decisions, in the further commitment not to harm either the economy of the Church or that of the diocese.”
Father Raúl continues, “This initiative certainly represents also a ‘social’ gesture from the Church’s perspective of looking after the common home at a time when climate change, with all its consequences, is a source of serious concern. We want to leave this world not only as it is, but possibly a little better for those who will come after us: the issue is now truly urgent.”
The timing of the initiative
The higher or lower cost of investing in renewable energy and the time necessary to payback the expenses incurred will depend on the customer's consumption habits, says the founder of SolGaleo.
At present, the most profitable investment is an installation “without batteries,” says Rodríguez-Saá: the investment is paid back more quickly “when we match consumption periods with generation periods.” For example, if a customer consumes energy mainly at certain times of the day, in the summer, for instance, his or her installation will pay for itself much more quickly than that of a customer who consumes in winter, when the efficiency of the solar panel is much lower and it is more difficult to match energy generation and consumption.
The advantages of green energy
“The installation of solar panels is extremely quick and extremely safe,” says Rodríguez-Saá. “In fact,” he continues, “one of the advantages of solar technology is that it is modular, meaning that you can increase the power according to your needs and you can install it little by little, like a jigsaw puzzle, very safely and efficiently.” Rodríguez-Saá also affirms that maintenance is simple. “Basically, the success of self-consumption solar installations, as in the case of the Diocese of Ourense, lies in maintenance,” he says, “which consists of daily remote monitoring of the panels with all the necessary software, as well as annual preventive maintenance, which consists of cleaning the panels and little else. If there is any inconvenience during the year, a very simple corrective maintenance is sufficient”.