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Solar panels on graves give power to Spanish town

Solar panels sit on top of niches at the Santa Coloma de Gramenet cemetery, outside Barcelona, Spain,

Santa Coloma de Gramenet, a gritty, working-class town outside Barcelona, has placed a sea of solar panels atop mausoleums at its cemetery, transforming a place of perpetual rest into one buzzing with renewable energy.

Flat, open and sun-drenched land is so scarce in Santa Coloma that the graveyard was just about the only viable spot to move ahead with its solar energy program.

The power the 462 panels produces — equivalent to the yearly use by 60 homes — flows into the local energy grid for normal consumption and is one community's odd nod to the fight against global warming.

"The best tribute we can pay to our ancestors, whatever your religion may be, is to generate clean energy for new generations. That is our leitmotif," said Esteve Serret, director Conste-Live Energy, a Spanish company that runs the cemetery in Santa Coloma and also works in renewable energy.

In row after row of gleaming, blue-gray, the panels rest on mausoleums holding five layers of coffins, many of them marked with bouquets of fake flowers. The panels face almost due south, which is good for soaking up sunshine, and started working on Wednesday — the culmination of a project that began three years ago.

The concept emerged as a way to utilize an ideal stretch of land in a town that wants solar energy but is so densely built-up — Santa Coloma's population of 124,000 is crammed into four square kilometers (1.5 square miles) — it had virtually no place to generate it.

At first, parking solar panels on coffins was a tough sell, said Antoni Fogue, a city council member who was a driving force behind the plan.

"Let's say we heard things like, 'they're crazy. Who do they think they are? What a lack of respect!' "Fogue said in a telephone interview.

But town hall and cemetery officials waged a public-awareness campaign to explain the worthiness of the project, and the painstaking care with which it would be carried out. Eventually it worked, Fogue said.

The panels were erected at a low angle so as to be as unobtrusive as possible.

"There has not been any problem whatsoever because people who go to the cemetery see that nothing has changed," Fogue said. "This installation is compatible with respect for the deceased and for the families of the deceased."

The cemetery hold the remains of about 57,000 people and the solar panels cover less than 5 percent of the total surface area. They cost 720,000 euros ($900,000) to install and each year will keep about 62 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, Serret said.

The community's leaders hope to erect more panels and triple the electricity output, Fogue said. Before this, the town had four other solar parks — atop buildings and such — but the cemetery is by far the biggest.

He said he has heard of cemeteries elsewhere in Spain with solar panels on the roofs of their office buildings, but not on above-ground graves.
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