It all started in September 2021 when Marianne Zeyringer and Guillermo Valenzuela, members of Work Package 5: Environmental Sustainability, contacted Luis Ramirez Camargo and Maria Luisa Lode from the EU-project Renaissance (external link) to support the development of a workshop on renewable energies in San Pedro de Atacama. The town is the closest municipality to the Chajnantor Plateau, future home of AtLAST.
A community-driven approach
The Renaissance project has the main goal of developing energy communities with environmental, economic and social benefits to its members, involving the generation of renewable energy by the community and for the community in a truly cooperative manner. With their experience from pilots of this community-driven approach in different places in Europe and America, the project from the University of Brussels seemed a great fit to contribute the social scientific aspects needed for the telescope’s design study. Bringing these two European projects together was a perfect match – AtLAST with the necessary energetical and astronomical background knowledge and Renaissance with their experience working with local communities on renewable energy topics.
The to-do list for WP5 scientists was long: Establishing contacts with the stakeholders in San Pedro de Atacama, preparing a survey about renewable energy, and carrying out a workshop on energy communities.
First steps - Development of a survey on renewable energies
In December 2021, Guillermo started the work by visiting San Pedro de Atacama and generating the first contact with different actors in this place: observatories, municipality and local people.
– "To contact all the existing communities and other stakeholders is very difficult since they are located so isolated and remotely”, he noted in that instance.
Soon after, a survey formulated with the help of the Renaissance project was distributed amongst the stakeholders in the area, whose purpose was to capture their opinion about energy consumption and their priorities. In this instance he noted how difficult it was to contact all the existing communities and other stakeholders due to isolation and remoteness.
Four main stakeholders were identified in San Pedro de Atacama and its surroundings. The first one was the observatories located at Chajnantor Plateau, obtaining valuable responses from the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX), the Simons Array, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), and the University of Tokyo Atacama Observatory (TAO). The second group considered was the municipality of San Pedro de Atacama, which was represented by people from the communal planning office, SECPLA. The third considered stakeholder is made up of local people, including restaurants, schools, hotels, stores, and residents. The last stakeholder consists of the local energy supplier, called Cooperativa Eléctrica de San Pedro de Atacama (CESPA), which is currently in charge of providing electricity to San Pedro de Atacama and other adjacent communities.
Even though everything was organized from the other side of the world, in Norway, with the resulting challenges due to the distance and the time difference, about 50 responses were collected from this survey. According to Renaissance’s prior experiences, this is a good number.
– “The first steps are finished, and we are happy but still very anxious and nervous since the next step is to invite people to the workshop and carry it out”, says Guillermo Valenzuela at the end of this stage.
Preparation of the workshops
While survey responses came in, the busy prep work for the workshops started moving: inviting the different stakeholders, solving logistic issues (place for the workshop and catering service), and preparing the results as well as the presentation for the workshop. Marianne and Guillermo were in charge of the first two tasks, organizing two workshops to cover all the considered stakeholders. The first workshop was planned for July 5th at Hotel Diego de Almagro, and was focused on the participation of observatories, local people, and CESPA, while the second workshop was planned for July 7th at the municipality of San Pedro de Atacama, focusing on the local authorities.
At the same time, Luis, Maria and the Renaissance team were working on the modeling and simulation of the energy system, including the results obtained from the survey. They based their calculation on previous work on energy demands and cost predictions presented by Isabelle Viole and Guillermo Valenzuela in the 6th International Hybrid Power System Workshop, in Madeira, Portugal. In this work, they compared different scenarios to meet the electricity demand of AtLAST and the town of San Pedro de Atacama, such as using a renewable energy system based on photovoltaic and energy storage components, and a hybrid energy system also including a diesel generator. They obtained that the cost-optimal solution is a hybrid system which runs on PV and batteries for almost 95% of the time. Compared to pure diesel systems running in the area today, this will reduce the carbon footprint by about 97%.
Everything was ready, and the time of the workshops arrived.
Workshops at San Pedro de Atacama
Luis and Maria started with the presentation and everything went as planned: the different actors discussed and participated lively in the workshop. Important take-aways for the observatories included the utter importance of reliability to avoid blackouts, while they were also worried about the costs of the system. Participants from the local population underlined their preference for replicable systems, that means they would like renewable energy systems whose design can be applied not only in San Pedro de Atacama, but also in other remote areas. This would allow for a cheaper adaptation of renewable energies in many rural areas in South America. CESPA highlighted the need for cooperation among actors as a key element for a larger system and invited all observatories to have a discussion about their potential integration into CESPA’s power system.
As the first workshop came to an end, the team was enthusiastic about achieving the goal of discussing the development of renewable energy communities and listening to the opinions of many stakeholders in San Pedro de Atacama.
After a day of preparation, the second workshop on renewable energies took place on July 7. Taking with them the experience from the prior stakeholder meeting, and focusing solely on only one actor this time, the team gained a deep understanding of the needs and wishes of the local authorities. They gathered that important criteria for this stakeholder include the education of the communities on energy matters, next to the reduction of the energy bill and greenhouse gas emissions. It was decided to stay in close contact about community involvement in the energy side of the AtLAST project.
Taking many insights and good contacts to local stakeholders home with them, they had successfully completed one of AtLAST’s milestones, namely, Meeting to discuss the project and the community expectations.
– “We are tired but very happy about the inputs obtained during the workshops and the experience learned in carrying out this work. Both of them will be very useful for the future of AtLAST”, Guillermo wraps up this exciting period.
The goal of Work Package 5 – Environmental Sustainability is to design a renewable energy system for AtLAST that is robust to social and specific factors, and ensures long-term sustainability of the project. (WP5) Experts on renewable energy systems from the University of Oslo will investigate and demonstrate technical challenges and opportunities of developing such a system. This study is a first of its kind for an astronomical observatory at the design study stage.
- Isabelle Viole, doctoral fellow at University of Oslo
- Guillermo Valenzuela, Postdoctoral fellow at University of Oslo
Marianne Zeyringer, Assoc. Prof, at University of Oslo
For more info on AtLAST- design study visit www.atlast.uio.no