Solar energy is providing metered electricity to the rectory at Saint Pius X Catholic Church in Granger, IN. The system, consisting of 37 connected solar panels atop a pole barn, was proposed by the parish's Creation Care Team, which was formed in response to Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si'. Pope Francis called on all people to care for our common home and declared the poor are most affected by the challenges of climate change.
Indiana regulations prohibit a solar array from serving more than one electric meter, so the system is sized to meet the needs only of the nearby rectory. Any extra capacity cannot be used to offset electricity going through other meters on the parish grounds, such as the education center, offices, or church.
During the summer months when the sun is high and the days are long, the solar panels will create more energy than is being consumed by the rectory occupants. That excess energy is diverted back into the grid to meet nearby demand, which peaks in summer mostly due to air conditioning use.
For persons considering a residential application, the electric utility will pay the homeowner a reduced wholesale rate, then re-sell the electricity to a nearby customer at retail rate. Even that reduced net metering in Indiana will be phased out for new installations beginning July 2022 due to recent legislation at the Statehouse.
The parish can bank the excess generation from summer to pay winter bills when the panels are seasonally less productive. After about a dozen years the money saved on electric bills will have paid for the entire solar system, with energy thereafter being essentially free. Meanwhile, from Day One of using solar energy, the rectory will be essentially powered by non-carbon renewable energy.
The rectory is still connected to the electric grid to get traditionally powered electricity during the night and cloudy days. To disconnect fully from the grid would require a battery storage system. Again, though, the panels should derive nearly a year's worth of electricity over twelve months.
Though the solar panels first appeared on the rooftop at the August 2018 parish picnic, they became fully functional in late December 2019. The project encountered delays when the original installer had a personal health crisis and went out of business, leaving the parish and several individuals in a lurch. Eventually another contractor finished connecting the panels to the rectory meter.
A solargraph facing southward overlooking the pole barn indicates the swath of sun from which the solar panels will capture energy. Around the 2019 December solstice and with support from Mossberg and Company Inc., about sixty students at Saint Pius X made their own solargraph cans to create individual long-duration exposures of the sun.
Solar panels convert sunlight into usable electric current using a process known as the photovoltaic (PV) effect. There are no moving parts, with the exception of electrons, so maintenance is greatly reduced. The panels lose a small amount of efficiency annually, but are expected to last at least 25 years.