A match made in heaven – renewable energy and religion



When the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon is completed in May, it will be the only church in the world that uses its stained-glass windows to generate power.

In fact, it'll be one of only a handful of buildings in North America where solar cells are used in such a fashion.

New technological advancements have allowed Toronto-based artist Sarah Hall to embed small solar cells into giant panes of stained glass that are able to absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity.

Although she's been a stained-glass artist for over 30 years, the first time she incorporated solar cells into work was four years ago for a theology library at Vancouver's Regent College graduate school of Christian studies.

'It was a terrific learning curve, but I had absolutely wonderful people to work with,' she told GLOBE-Net.

When she found out that the Cathedral of the Holy Family was located in the sunniest city in Canada, she suggested that they use solar technology to make their church more environmentally friendly.

They jumped on the idea after seeing what she'd done at Regent College.

'Not only would this generate electricity for the building,' wrote Jim Nakoneshny, the Building Committee Chair, 'but it would do so in a way that celebrated the Glory of God and the beauty of His creation through colour and light.'

The church's aim is to combine very traditional window displays with state-of-the-art technology in a way that will 'showcase both art and science.'

The cost of the church is an estimated $28-million, and its windows will contain a total of 1113 solar cells. A total of 54 large stained glass panels will be created for this project. (See work in progress display)

Solar cells were originally used in the '50s to provide power to spaceships and gained popularity back on earth in the '70s during the energy crisis. They've become so small since then that Hall is able to embed them in between two planes of glass so that they are in direct contact with sunlight but remain protected.

The facilities to fabricate this type of glass are not available in Canada, so it's all done in Germany.

The electricity gained from these cells can be used for any purpose, but is often used to power LED lights. The cells are safe, reliable, low-maintenance and produce no pollution.

She believes that combining technology like this with art will become more common in the future as the architectural world becomes more environmentally conscious. She added that she hopes to continue incorporating solar cells in her work, as long as it's appropriate for the project.

'We've got sunlight, we've got wind, we have geothermal heat, we've got tidal energy,' she said. 'If we can use the things that we've already got, and bring our creativity and our research so that we make really good use of those things, it'll be better for absolutely everybody in the world.'

Let's hope that higher powers agree

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