While the COVID-19 pandemic is singular in its rapid development and global implications, many have drawn parallels with another, equally significant, global issue: the ongoing climate crisis. In Europe, in particular, the parallels have led to the realization that the European Union’s COVID-19 response may also hold the key to addressing and accelerating longer-term decarbonization goals.
Unlike COVID-19, the climate crisis is slow-burning, its impact on life and the economy not nearly as jarring as the seemingly daily assault of headlines announcing death tolls and speculating about widespread economic collapse. As the negative headlines recede and talk of rebuilding begins, there is a growing chorus of calls from European business leaders, economists, and politicians for COVID-19 economic stimulus measures to be directly tied to climate targets.
Europe faces an unprecedented opportunity: it needs to rebuild following the devastating effects of the pandemic, and it needs to accelerate its response to climate change using the levers of the EU Green Deal. The two, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently noted, are not mutually exclusive. And while there have been calls for economic recovery “at any cost,” Leyen, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and EU Green Deal Commissioner Franz Timmermans are just some of the dominant voices making a case for the Green Deal to be central to Europe’s recovery.
Fortunately for Europe, the tools to transition to a green economy already exist. With sharply falling generation costs, and increasing reliability and ancillary services available, photovoltaic (PV) solar is one of the most potent tools available, helping kickstart Europe’s economies while slashing emissions drastically.
And there are tangible indicators to support this thesis. Over one April weekend, Germany sourced 23 percentof its net electricity from solar PV, with renewables making up 55 percent of overall demand, without any adverse impacts on the country’s electricity grid. Spain and the United Kingdom also set similar records, dispelling myths about the inability of renewables to handle more than a minor share of a region’s electricity.
The real value of increasing investment and instituting solar-friendly policy comes from the benefits it can deliver across multiple avenues. The environmental benefits is a given – thin film solar has a lifetime carbon footprint more than 50 times lower than the coal plants it replaces, the lowest carbon footprint of any PV technology available today. Carbon displacement aside, solar PV is a proven creator of stable jobs and an enabler of energy security.
One issue that has come to the forefront in several societies throughout the COVID-19 crisis is the importance of secure, local value chains. The virtual shut down of many of the world’s economies has left many countries reliant on imports scrambling to secure critical infrastructure and energy supplies. Thin film solar has proven to be a great candidate for a tightly integrated value chain, supporting the creation of a large number of jobs in regions where they are manufactured or installed. The exceptionally low carbon footprint of thin film solarensures that the industry is well suited to usher in a new era of sustainable power production, which plays well into the framework of the EU Green Deal.
The International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA, has released a new report outlining the economic potential of a renewables-centric COVID-19 recovery plan – uncovering massive potential. The report outlines how increased investment in renewables can lead to global GDP gains of $98tn by 2050, returning between $3-8 for every dollar invested.
This, in effect, leads to an economic recovery that not only creates ample jobs in the shadow of COVID-19 but will also tackle the climate crisis at no supplemental cost. Looked at in the context of a recent Solar Power Europe and LUT university study, advocating for an accelerated decarbonization timeline, Europe has a unique opportunity to emerge from this crisis as a more resilient society.
Ultimately ushering in a green economy in Europe will have an enormously positive effect, both economically and environmentally. The very fabric of our society is transforming before our eyes; we all must come together to ensure this period of incredible change is leveraged to build a more sustainable, resilient society.
This can be remembered as the time the world came together in the face of adversity to build a better future. As we see our economies slow to a halt, we should all take a minute and think about how we can reorient them to build a better future – we may never get an opportunity like this again.