The Vatican Makes Switch to Solar

St. Peter's Square
The Vatican will soon begin using solar power in some of its buildings.

The roof of a large auditorium in the Vatican in Italy, the traditional hub of the Catholic Church, will soon have solar panels, according to CNN. The move is in line with a range of other “eco”-oriented actions on the part of the Church in recent years. Pope Benedict XVI has defended the environment in speeches, and last summer he urged Christians to take “care of creation without squandering its resources.” The Vatican also sponsored a high-level conference on climate change for Church leaders this past April, with the goal of developing an ecumenical position on the issue.

The switch to solar reflects the pontiff’s concerns about squandering Earth’s resources, project engineer Pier Carlo Cuscianna told CNN. According to Cuscianna, the new photovoltaic (PV) cells will not only generate electricity for illuminating, heating, and cooling the entire 6,300-seat auditorium, but will at times power other buildings as well. “Since the auditorium isn't used every day, the [excess] energy will feed into the network providing [the Vatican] with power, so other Vatican offices can use the energy,” he said.

The large presentation hall, built in 1969, is used for the pope’s general audiences on Wednesdays in the winter and during bad weather at other times. According to Cuscianna, the building “was born half-ecological,” as the architect chose cement panels for the flattened vaulted roof in part to keep visitors cool. But the panels have deteriorated with time and need replacement. A feasibility study published in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano concluded that the change to PV panels will provide economic benefits.

The new panels will be similar in shape and color to the old ones, so the visual change will be minimal, according to CNN. The Vatican is considering installing additional solar panels on other buildings of the Holy See, though it will not consider such renovations for historic landmarks like St. Peter’s Basilica.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.