The European solar energy sector is about to get a new player, and this one has God on its side.

Fresh from turning on its own rooftop solar array late last year, Vatican officials have caught the renewable energy bug and are reportedly pressing ahead with plans for a €500m solar farm north of Rome that could become Europe's largest solar facility.

According to Bloomberg reports, the Holy See is planning to invest €500m in the 100MW project, which is expected to come online in 2014 and will generate enough energy for 40,000 homes.

"Now is the time to strike," Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican City’s governor, told the news agency. "One should take advantage of the crisis to try and develop these renewable-energy sources to the maximum, which in the long run will reap incomparable rewards."

The solar farm is to be located at a site to the north of Italy that also homes a radio mast for the Vatican's broadcasting service. The solar panels are expected to provide nine times the energy required by the radio mast, allowing the Vatican to sell the remaining power to local energy suppliers and take advantage of Italy's generous solar subsidies.

The project will be put up for tender, but German company Solarworld is expected to have an inside track after installing the Vatican's rooftop solar panels last year. Company chief executive Frank Asbeck said he was "quite confident" the firm would secure the deal.

The project is the latest in a series of moves from the Vatican designed to enhance its environmental credentials. Alongside the rooftop solar panels, officials are looking at plans for a biomass facility at the pope's Castel Gandolfo summer residence, while proposals for a low carbon "popemobile" have also been muted.

Pope Benedict has also taken a more active stance on environmental issues than his predecessor and last year the Vatican included pollution as one of seven new "social sins".



Photo collage includes images by Flickr user Andy G and SXC user straymuse.