Climate change and COVID-19 are two challenges of intergenerational magnitude that require collective action. This same approach has been observed in the renewable energy sector, especially through the ATAMOSTEC initiative in the Atacama Desert in Chile, which is a global technological reference in solar energy. The advanced state of COVID-19, as well as the present and future global needs and aspirations in solar energy, prompt holistic decisions.
On 16 September, during the annual presentation of the European Commission’s (EC) priorities for 2021, Ursula von der Leyen – President of the EC – highlighted both the health and environmental sectors as two main priorities for strengthening Europe. At the same time, certain cultural initiatives, such as the 32nd edition of the “Visa pour l’Image” international photojournalism festival, have also made of the climate crisis and COVID-19 its two protagonists.
COVID-19 and climate change
The coincidental contexts of COVID-19 and climate change offer us the challenge and at the same time the opportunity to revisit Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Two worlds, a sensory world and the world of ideas. The first one is identified with the dark zone inside the cave from Plato’s Allegory of the cave, where people are bound in “chains”, and as being unable to look directly at each other. They communicate through projected fictions on a metaphorical movie screen. We might now refer to this world, drawing a parallel with nowadays, as the various sciences and their respective approaches, each of them working in a separate niche. The second world, the world of the ideas, would correspond not only to interactions, but also to the interdependence between the spheres of the sensory world or, applying the same parallelism as above, between the various disciplines.
COVID-19 and climate urgency are two realities which require positioning ourselves in “the world of ideas” by making use of the resources from multiple disciplines to stimulate cooperation regarding the serious vulnerabilities – health, environmental and economic- of the current system.
The same challenge has been presented to us through the ATAMOSTEC (Atacama Module and System Technology Center) project in the Atacama Desert in Chile, where the French National Institute of Solar Energy (INES) is working. High radiation conditions, strong winds and severe living conditions for its inhabitants, which are becoming more pronounced due to climate change, have led us to adopt a holistic perspective.
ATAMOSTEC: a symbiosis of technology, business and training
Chile has made great efforts to promote the expansion of renewable energies to contribute to its decarbonisation plan and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. It is in this context that ATAMOSTEC is a unique initiative, as it brings together the capacities of different institutions with the aim of reducing solar energy costs to values below $ 25 per MWh. It is a multilateral project based on a public-private technology consortium that brings together industry, academia, national and international research centres in a collaborative effort to:
- Develop bifacial photovoltaic technologies with the highest efficiency in desert areas of high radiation and temperature.
- Reduce costs through existing technology.
- Ensure adequate operation and maintenance to address challenges such as soiling and climate adaptation.
- Optimize technology performance.
- Transfer both technology and services to national and international markets.
ATAMOSTEC is based on the following equation: Technology + Business + Training. In other words, it is a living example of the success of interdependence applied along the entire value chain, from the first levels – the solar panels, where each photovoltaic cell enjoys a certain independence but the operation not only of each of them but also between them ensures the operation of the panel- to the results and impacts achieved -scientific research, technological development and capacity-building-.
ATAMOSTEC’s model of multilateral cooperation with local, national and international institutions should be highlighted. The same paradigm is applicable to the current challenge of COVID-19, in which regional and national ambitions for economic growth and social welfare must work in absolute interdependence with the energy and environmental sectors in order to refine our understanding of community needs.
In conclusion, collective action is the challenge posed by the contexts of both climate change and COVID-19, as neither of them limits itself to individual or state borders. Nowadays, therefore, it is critical to review and internalize the subtle messages of certain elements of Chinese calligraphy such as 王, which is the traditional interpretation of the convergence between politics (upper bar), socioeconomy, (the second horizontal bar, people) and the environment (the third bar, the Earth).
Let’s make this interdependence visible, and work to normalize it. Promoting green tax reform through its multiple instruments for revenue collection (carbon taxes, charges and fees), as well as revenue expenditure (direct and indirect subsidies, Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP), and Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), among others) – would respond to both problems with significant positive impacts. However, this would be the subject of another publication.