Commission proposes Strategic Energy Technology Plan
The European Commission has proposed a Strategic Energy Technology Plan with the goal of boosting research into the new, low carbon technologies which Europe will need if it is to meet its
climate change targets.
The EU has set itself targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, and by 2050 it hopes to reduce emissions by 60 to 80%. Meeting these ambitious goals will require new
technologies, and if Europe does not take the lead in their development, other areas of the world will.
‘Decisions taken over the next 10 to 15 years will have profound consequences for energy security, for climate change and for growth and jobs in Europe. If we fall behind in the intensifying
global race to win low carbon technology markets, we risk meeting our targets with imported technologies,’ warned EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.
Unfortunately energy research in Europe is currently under-funded, dispersed and badly coordinated. There are structural weaknesses in the energy innovation process, and public budgets for
energy research have fallen substantially since the 1980s.
‘We have the chance to be world leaders in low carbon technologies, but if Europe doesn’t act together more effectively, we will squander that opportunity and the economic benefits of the
transition to a low carbon economy will go elsewhere,’ said Janez Potocnik, the EU’s Science and Research Commissioner. ‘The ideas that the Commission is putting forward today will allow Europe
to develop a world class portfolio of affordable, clean, efficient and low emission energy technologies.’
The new plan sets out a number of actions to tackle the fragmented nature of European energy research. These include the creation of European Industrial Initiatives, which will bring together
the relevant resources and actors in a particular sector such as wind, solar, bio-energy and nuclear fission. How these initiatives work will vary from sector to sector, but it is likely that
some could be set up as Joint Technology Initiatives.
The Commission also proposes the establishment of a European Energy Research Alliance, which will boost cooperation between the many scientific disciplines engaged in research that impacts upon
energy technologies, such as physics, chemistry, materials science and engineering.
In order to ensure all policy makers and stakeholders in the energy sector are aware of the latest technologies and ideas, the Commission will set up and run a European Energy Technology
System. This will provide the latest information on new technologies and barriers to uptake and further development.
Switching Europe’s energy infrastructure and networks to a low carbon system will require massive changes entailing significant investments in a wide range of sectors. Planning how to carry out
these changes as efficiently as possible is therefore a major priority, and the Commission will develop its ideas in this area in 2008.
Finally, and European Community Steering Group on Strategic Energy Technologies will enable Member States and the Commission to plan joint actions and coordinate policies and programmes.
The lack of funding for energy research is a major problem, and the Commission will present a Communication on financing low carbon technologies at the end of 2008. This will investigate
resource needs and set out possible ways to leverage more investment from a range of sources.
Progress on the initiatives set out in the new action plan will be reviewed at a European Energy Technology Summit which will be held in 2009.
Commenting on the plan, the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) welcomed the idea of the European Industrial Initiatives, but expressed its regret that these will focus largely on
electricity and transport. ‘The sector of heating and cooling is not addressed accordingly while it represents approximately half of the EU’s final energy consumption,’ said EREC Policy
Director Oliver Schäfer.
Meanwhile Greenpeace criticised the plan for its support for fossil fuel and nuclear energy. ‘Under the umbrella of ‘low-carbon’ technologies, the plan fails to distinguish between the real
solutions to the climate crisis, renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, and expensive technologies that either bear an unacceptable environmental cost, like nuclear energy, or
that are mere distractions, like carbon capture and storage,’ said Frauke Thies, Greenpeace’s energy expert.