The European Commission will ask EU leaders to support a Strategic Energy Technology Plan to put Europe on course for a low-carbon future at the Spring Summit this week. However, national considerations once again risk dampening EU ambitions.
Current efforts on energy R&D, both at member state and EU level, are insufficient to face the twin challenges of climate change and energy-supply security, the Commission will tell EU leaders at a meeting in Brussels on 8-9 March.
“‘Business as usual’ is not an option,” the EU executive body stated on 10 January in a paper outlining possible paths for future energy research. “The current trends and their projections into the future demonstrate that we are simply not doing enough”.
“All member states have their own research programmes on energy, mostly with similar objectives and targeting the same technologies,” the Commission points out, saying that additional public and private research “complete a picture of scattered, fragmented and sub-critical capacities”.
To reinforce the point, the paper draws a comparison between EU and US energy research budgets. While the EU average (FP7 and Euratom) will be raised to €886 million per year in 2007-2013, the US Energy Bill proposes $4.4 billion for 2007 and $5.3bn for 2008 and 2009 respectively.
Taking non-nuclear energy research (renewables and energy efficiency), the EU has earmarked a comparitively meagre €1.175 billion for the period 2007-2013, or some €168 million per year (EURACTIV 19/12/2007).
“In order to be able to compete in global markets, the European Union and its member states both have to increase their investment,” the Commission stresses.
European Spring Summits are typically devoted to economic competitiveness and innovation but energy and climate change will form the major part this year. And the challenge is huge – in order to restrict global-temperature increases to 2°C maximum, Brussels says that global emissions of greenhouse gases must be reduced by 50%, a figure that would imply a 60-80% reduction by Europe and other industrialised nations.
“To put the European Union and global energy systems onto a sustainable path…will require a sea-change in European energy technology innovation, from basic research right through to market take-up,” the Commission pointed out.
It therefore proposes “transforming energy technology innovation” with a European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan). In the Commission’s view, the plan should focus on a broad portfolio of technologies to develop both in the short and long term. Examples of such large-scale initiatives could include:
- sustainable coal and gas technologies;
- fuel cells and hydrogen;
- generation IV nuclear fission.
“The strategic element of the plan will be to identify those technologies for which it is essential that the European Union as a whole finds a more powerful way of mobilising resources,” the Commission said.