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Historic building solar panels: St. Antonius

Historic building solar panels: Innovation at St. Antonius

Letztes Update: 14. Mai 2024

Historic building solar panels: St. Antonius in Emsland integrates 42 photovoltaic elements into its traditional slate roof, harmonizing heritage and sustainability. This pioneering project not only protects the environment but also ensures financial benefits for the community.

St. Antonius: Harnessing the Power of the Sun

St. Antonius: Harnessing the Power of the Sun

For Father Detlef Perk and church board member Christoph Ahlers, the biblical phrase "Let there be light" has taken on a very earthly meaning. The nearly 160-year-old St. Antonius parish church in Dersum, Emsland, now converts sunlight into electricity. This small church community, part of the Maria Magdalena parish association, is a pioneer in reconciling heritage conservation with climate protection. By discreetly integrating 42 high-performance dark photovoltaic elements into the traditional slate roof, both the Diocese of Osnabrück and the heritage authority approved the installation on the productive and visible south side of the sacred brick building.

Innovation Through Integration

"As a church," says Father Perk pragmatically, "we have a role model function. We are obliged to preserve special places, protect creation, and be open to new things." Clean solar power is climate protection from the church roof and even pays off for the community in the medium term. When the sun shines over Dersum and the fluffy clouds reflect in the new roof, the church's coffers ring. As a "commercial" full supplier, the regional energy provider transfers around 15 cents per kilowatt-hour to the Catholic community—tax-free. "So we not only contribute to sustainability but also secure our church finances sustainably with the revenue," says Christoph Ahlers, the church's master builder, convinced of the economic success. The system delivers almost 18 kWp of energy at its peak. "It can thus be amortized in about eight years," emphasizes Frank Rummel, managing director at Rathscheck Schiefer.

The Broader Impact

For the German company based in the Vulkaneifel, the church roof in the village center of Dersum is just the beginning of a widespread revolution on historic buildings. Statistics from statista.com estimate that there are around 45,000 church buildings in Germany alone, "of which roughly more than 50 percent are suitable for photovoltaic systems due to their often traditional southern orientation," says Rummel. The Evangelical Church in the Rhineland already calculated years ago that the previously largely untapped energy potential on more than 2,000 of its roofs amounts to 1.9 million kilowatt-hours per year. However, it was only with the energy crisis that most federal states relaxed the strict rules for heritage protection and paved the way for solar power—provided the appearance of historic structures is not impaired.

Historic Building Solar Panels: A Key to the Energy Transition

The fusion of traditional architecture with modern environmental technology in compliance with heritage protection is considered a key to the success of the energy transition. The in-roof photovoltaic system from Rathscheck not only permanently and sustainably combines centuries-old slate tradition with smart technology and sophisticated aesthetics ("It also looks chic," says Ahlers) but also makes renovation attractive from the start. Under the solar modules, which can cover the churches' own electricity needs and generate additional income from electricity sales, no additional roofing is required. "In the context of a renovation," says church board member Ahlers, "this was the perfect solution in terms of overall costs." In addition to storm damage to the main roof, the Dersum residents were able to eliminate an old burden: asbestos-containing slate imitations on the modern polygonal church annex from the late 1970s. They were removed and replaced with the natural original in the classic arch cut—almost as it was when built in 1865. Slate is not only one of the most durable roofing materials but also one of the most sustainable: the energy for the production process was provided by nature itself 400 million years ago through massive earth movements. Thanks to modern processing technology, slate for roofs and facades is available today in many variants—from traditional to modern. Photovoltaic modules can be integrated almost flush into all types of roofing.

Economic and Environmental Benefits

The economic and environmental benefits of integrating solar panels into historic buildings are significant. The St. Antonius project demonstrates that it is possible to preserve the aesthetic integrity of historic structures while embracing modern technology. The revenue generated from the solar panels helps to fund the church's activities and maintenance, ensuring its sustainability for future generations. Moreover, the reduction in carbon emissions contributes to global efforts to combat climate change.

Challenges and Solutions

One of the main challenges in integrating solar panels into historic buildings is maintaining the visual integrity of the structure. The solution lies in using discreet and aesthetically pleasing photovoltaic elements that blend seamlessly with the existing architecture. In the case of St. Antonius, the dark photovoltaic elements were carefully chosen to match the traditional slate roof, ensuring that the modern technology did not detract from the building's historic appearance.

The Future of Historic Building Solar Panels

The success of the St. Antonius project sets a precedent for other historic buildings. With the relaxation of heritage protection rules and the increasing demand for renewable energy, more historic buildings can follow in the footsteps of St. Antonius. The integration of solar panels into historic buildings not only addresses the urgent need for sustainable energy sources but also ensures the preservation and financial stability of these cultural landmarks.


The St. Antonius church in Dersum is a shining example of how historic buildings can embrace modern technology without compromising their heritage. By integrating solar panels into the traditional slate roof, the church has achieved a balance between preservation and innovation. This project not only provides economic and environmental benefits but also serves as a model for other historic buildings. As more historic buildings adopt solar technology, the potential for renewable energy generation and heritage preservation will continue to grow, paving the way for a sustainable future.

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