Delivering on clean energy research and innovation

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Miguel Arias Cañete, EU Commissioner for Climate Action. [© European Union, 2014 / Source: EC - Audiovisual Service]

Assembling together countries, industry and research institutes, the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan has been bringing together public and private investments to make the clean energy vision a reality on the ground. Launched in 2007, the SET Plan now stands at an important junction, writes Miguel Arias Cañete.

Miguel Arias Cañete is the EU Commissioner for climate action.

The transition towards a low-carbon economy, as we tackle climate change, is one of the biggest opportunities of our time. As Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, my aim is to accelerate the clean energy transition by putting in place the right legal, policy and financial framework, which includes cooperation on clean energy technologies through the innovative Strategic Energy Technologies (SET) Plan.

The clean energy transition is well underway in Europe. And we have made an impressive progress in strengthening our tools and policies. New, ambitious 2030 targets for energy efficiency – at least 32.5% –, and renewables – at least 32% – have been agreed by the European Parliament and EU governments.

These will also be required to put forward their own National Energy and Climate Plans for 2021 to 2030 – not in isolation, but by coordinating these plans in order to collectively achieve our common ambitions in the most efficient way. This is genuine European added value. And a legislative rulebook fit for the 21st century.

Technological developments will play a crucial role in delivering on these commitments, and achieving success in this respect requires massive investment. This is why we are progressively giving greater emphasis on using EU finance as leverage for private funding.

A prime example is the Investment Plan for Europe, which gives a much more efficient return on public investment. This has created a major boost in renewables projects, amongst others. Research into clean energy technologies also continues to benefit from generous EU funding.

Going forward, we have proposed an ambitious research and innovation framework programme, called the Horizon Europe, where climate, energy and mobility compose a €15 billion cluster with several intervention areas in the energy sector to support the front-runners of the transition.

Climate spending, including in support of the clean energy transition, will benefit from stronger than ever emphasis in the EU budget thanks to our proposal to increase the related spending target to 25%.

But the technological challenge can only be fully addressed through cooperation. My approach to delivering results in clean energy research and innovation is similar to that followed for the clean energy transition overall: we can drive innovation and spread best practice much more quickly through a coordinated approach than if Member States were to proceed in isolation.

Assembling together countries, industry and research institutes, the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan has been bringing together public and private investments to make the clean energy vision a reality on the ground.

The Integrated SET Plan reflects the new European agenda for energy-related research and innovation covering the whole energy system: placing Europe at the forefront of the next generation of low-carbon energy technologies and creating jobs, economic growth and benefits for all.

We are at an important junction now, after the accomplishment of one major step in the life of the SET Plan – we have just endorsed its Implementation Plans*. These plans propose concrete actions for each technology area, backed up by public and private investments.

All in all, 14 areas of action, each one with a multitude of promising projects. The engagement we see in these ‘roadmaps for action’ is stunning; we have a total of €20 bn pledged in them, through the commitments of the SET Plan countries or the industrial sector involved in each one.

This money is to be invested in specific collaborative activities on top of the research and innovation actions that the countries or industry undertake on their own.

To take one example, the recently approved SET-Plan Ocean Energy – Implementation Plan aims at mobilizing €1.2 billion to develop a commercially viable wave and tidal industry that could meet 10 % of the European Union’s power demand by 2050.

Another Implementation Plan will ensure that Europe is competitive in the global battery market, and support our plans for e-mobility and energy storage. Meeting our targets for developing the next generation of lithium-ion batteries for e-mobility would result in doubling the Electric Vehicle driving range while keeping costs at today’s values. Development of the required materials and cell designs would also open strong manufacturing capabilities in Europe.

Now more than ever, the fight against climate change will require a collective effort. In so doing, the clean energy transition is the most obvious area in which we need to cooperate more rather than less.

Our cooperation through the SET Plan is a good example of how the EU works best, cooperating closely across national borders in order to accelerate our transition to a low-carbon, competitive and prosperous economy, by driving innovation and technological change.

Subscribe to our newsletters