EU seeks ‘world leadership’ in energy technologies


On 22 November, the Commission will publish a Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan) to help the EU reach targets for renewable energies uptake and CO2 emissions reductions. Brussels hopes the plan will boost a ‘clean’ technology sector plagued by high costs, market barriers and under-investment.

The purpose of the SET Plan will be to “accelerate the availability of energy technologies and at the same time engage European industry in the process so that it can gain world leadership in this sector”, the Commission said in a 19 November statement.

Citing “accumulated under-investment due to cheap oil”, the Commission laments that the “energy technology and innovation process has structural weaknesses, such as long lead times for (bringing) new technologies to mass market, locked-in infrastructure investments, diverse market incentives and network connection challenges”. 

Energy R&D funding and private sector investments have declined across the EU since 1991, according to the Commission, which will use development efforts in the US and Japan as a comparison to EU efforts in a ‘technology map’ to be included in the SET Plan. The purpose of the map will be to indicate “where we are now and what we can expect in the future” in terms of energy technology development.  

While it is not yet certain what the SET Plan will contain in detail, the Commission points to the potential of 14 energy technologies and the need for a long term policy framework. 

Renewables, such as solar and wind, are listed along with nuclear and ‘decarbonised’ fossil fuel power generation for their short term potential. Fusion energy, hydrogen, fuel cells and ‘new generation’ nuclear reactors are listed as part of a long-term vision that will require significant innovation to reduce costs and facilitate market uptake, according to the press release.

In its January communication, the Commission also indicated that “creating the framework conditions and incentives for the development and take-up of energy technologies is a matter of public policy”, and proposed a number of national and European-level measures, including:

  • EU research funds and favourable financing backed by the European Investment Bank (EIB);
  • EU legislative instruments that ‘pull’ demand for technologies – these include targets, minimum requirements, emissions trading, labelling, green certificates, etc.; and;  
  • increased coordination of research and education efforts, including through the European Institute of Technology (EIT).  

The annex of the communication contains several ‘key future technology options’, including geothermal, carbon capture and storage (CCS – see a recent EURACTIV related news) and ocean energy.

And a number of technology ‘success stories’ are highlighted by the Commission in its 19 November press release: the 
wave dragon
offshore wave energy converter in Denmark, the Sol Air Project that convers solar thermal energy to heat water, the CASTOR carbon sequestration project and the NULIFE nuclear research project. 

Technologies are seen as a key part of the development of an Energy Policy for Europe, officially launched with the Commission's publication of a 10 January energy and climate 'package' that was endorsed by EU leaders in March.

A SET Plan communication, presented as part of the January package, argues that "the European Union and the rest of the world have not reacted quickly enough to increase the use of low-carbon energy technologies or to improve energy efficiency" in order to deal with the challenges of rising oil prices and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

  • 22 Nov. 2007: Commission to present Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan).
  • March 2008: SET Plan, including financing options, to be discussed at Spring European Council.

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