Let the sun shine

This photo montage provided by SolarWorld shows how solar panels will look on the roof of the Vatican's audience hall when installed in 2008. Some 2,000 panels were donated to the Vatican by SolarWorld, a German company. (CNS/SolarWorld)The German solar company SolarWorld gave Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican a brilliant gift for Christmas.

Thanks to the Bonn-based company’s generosity, a $1.5 million solar power system will be donated and installed for free on the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall this year — fulfilling Vatican engineer Pier Carlo Cuscianna’s dream of making the Vatican greener and going solar.

After writing the story, which you can read here, I was able to talk with the company’s CEO, Frank Asbeck.

He was very happy to be offering the Vatican this gift and told me about the time he met Pope John Paul II in Rome just a few years ago.

Asbeck said he was at one of the general audiences in “prima fila,” that is, the front row where attendees get to shake the pope’s hand as he goes down the line. When the pope got to him, Asbeck showed him a small solar panel and said “Look Holy Father at what we can do, making electricity from sunlight.”

Asbeck told me Pope John Paul looked at him with a smile and said “My son, God can do everything.” And then the pope asked that “God bless your activities.”

Asbeck said there is a commercial somewhere showing a nun wearing sunglasses saying solar energy “is power from the boss himself.” Solar energy, Asbeck said, is a free gift from God that belongs to everyone. And the German CEO is doing a lot to make sure the capability of capturing power from the sun is shared.

He established an “Ethics Council” at SolarWorld just last year. According to the SolarWorld Web site, the council’s mission “is to support not only the economic growth of the company but also the ecological and social dimensions of solar energy for a fair and sustainable worldwide development. “

Through their Solar2World project, the company gives solar technology for free to poor communities. In one case cited on its Web site, the company donated a photovoltaic system for an AIDS orphanage in Malawi in Africa. 

Asbeck told me a project is more likely to be a success when “a priest or good teacher takes responsibility” for the donated solar technology.

“People need a shepherd and if someone takes responsibility then the project is a success; people feel responsible,” he said, and it is less likely the solar-power system will be stolen, damaged or neglected.  

PHOTO: This photo montage provided by SolarWorld shows how solar panels will look on the roof of the Vatican’s audience hall when installed in 2008. Some 2,000 panels were donated to the Vatican by SolarWorld, a German company. (CNS/SolarWorld)

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