By Robert Rand, BURN Editor

Last October, at a ceremony marking the 500th anniversary of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Pope Benedict XVI, now retired, declared that Michaelangelo’s frescoes exude the “light of God.” He might have added that solar panels now light the Vatican.

The Sistine was the venue this week for a papal conclave to elect Benedict’s successor. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, from Argentina, was selected. The new pope, named Francis I, will be the beneficiary of Benedict’s propensity for solar energy.

Take a look at this shot from Google maps:

Vatican Solar Panels_Google Map

The circular piazza is Saint Peter’s Square. The Sistine Chapel is on the top left, above and to the right of the iconic Dome of St. Peters’ Basilica. A stone’s throw from the Sistene, on the other side of the basilica, is a large, modernistic, quasi-rectangular shaped building. It’s the Paul VI auditorium, where, when the weather is bad, the pope holds weekly audiences with members of the public. The building has a photovoltaic panel roof.

The solar panels – more than 2000 of them — were installed in 2008, with Benedict’s blessing. They produce the energy required to heat, cool and light the building. One of the project’s engineers told the Associated Press that the panels “avoid 200 tons of carbon dioxide” every year. “This is the equivalent to 70 tons of oil.”

Benedict, who assumed the papacy in 2005, has criticized “the unbalanced use of energy” in the world. He once asked Catholics to reduce carbon consumption for Lent. And during his papacy work began on a “Vatican Climate Forest” in Hungary. The idea: plant more than 100,000 trees to absorb as much carbon dioxide as the Holy See emits annually. The objective: make the Vatican a carbon-neutral state.

Benedict has been called a “Green Pope.”  He is the first pontiff to have tooled around St. Peter’s square in an all electric Popemobile, donated to the Vatican last year by Renault.

The vehicle is powered by a lithium ion battery. Benedict previously had expressed interest in a solar powered vehicle.

All of which inspired one writer at The Atlantic to describe Benedict’s papacy as the embodiment of “The Father, The Sun, and the Holy Spirit.”