04/17/2009 11:44 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Vatican To Go Fully Solar

Only a few days after Roman Catholic Easter, the tradition's faith leaders announced a plan to care for God's Creation by harvesting energy from sunlight. Solar photovoltaic (PV) power exists in a small scale all over the world, from arrays less than 1 kW to a couple dozen MW. But the Holy See just announced that they intend to build what would today be the world's biggest solar PV system at 100 MW.


Exporting Green Power

An installation of this size is estimated to provide all the power needs of the small nation-state and even allow them to export electricity to their neighbors in Italy. The Vatican already has a sizable solar installation that powers the 6,300 seat dome where weekly mass is held. That system was made possible by a donation of $1.5 million of panels from German solar producer, Solarworld. This time around, Italy's supportive renewable energy policy (a generous feed-in tariff) helped to make the project economical.

The 100 MW solar farm is slated to be built ground-mounted on 740 acres that the Vatican owns north of Rome. Such a large installation is equal to almost half the size of Italy"s whole solar market in 2008. Initial cost estimates run as low as $450 million which, if realized, would be a leap forward in solar cost reduction to below $5 per watt including installation costs (making the source much more competitive with new fossil fuel-fired power plants).

It Doesn't Stop with PV

The Vatican also plans to utilize solar thermal systems to heat and cool the staff cafeteria. And they are looking into projects to process their waste and even their horses waste into usable energy as well.

Will Other Religious Institutions Lead as Well?

Caring for God's Creation is a value spoken by practitioners across the world's faiths. I hope these visible efforts by the Vatican help to inspire similar progress in the Sustainable Energy Transition at churches, mosques, and synagogues -- and in the homes and schools of their practitioners.

Thank you for your leadership on environmental stewardship, Pope Benedict XVI.