Research & Development
The overall aim of research, development and demonstration is to:
- increase efficiency
- achieve cost reductions
- enhance process reliability
- reduce environmental impacts
with a view to establish the European Union as a leading knowledge-based economy.
New ideas, scientific discoveries and engineering advances have a direct impact on the development of the industry to which they relate and are at the root of the dramatic reduction in cost of all renewable technologies in recent years.
However, despite the huge progress made, renewable energy has a long way to go before it reaches its full potential in terms of a 100% supply of energy. While some technologies can already be cost-competitive, even without the full internalisation of external costs of fossil fuels, significant further cost reductions are necessary through market development and research and development.
Figure 1: Virtuous Cycle in a Supportive Policy Environment
Beyond specific research activities that are needed to underpin the growth of the renewable energy industry in the electricity, heating and cooling as well as transport sector, EUREC Agency which is a founding member of EREC, identified some cross-cutting issues (EUREC publication 2009):
- Research Infrastructures: the approach to European funding of energy infrastructures should be extended to allow the integration of European experimental facilities in order to overcome fragmentation.
- There is a need for a better financing scheme for demonstration activities of new and improved renewable energy technologies.
- Especially in the heating and cooling sector, which represents 40% of the overall energy demand in the EU, public funds need to be increased in order to fulfill the required research.
- There is a continued lack of qualified and skilled workers. Therefore, more efforts are essential in education and training. Recommendations for small-scale renewable energy systems will be made by the QualiCert project.
EU and Member State support remains crucial for R&D in renewable energy technologies. The main tools for supporting R&D at the EU level are the multi-annual "Framework Programmes for R&D", managed by the European Commission through the Research Directorate-General (DG Research). At present, the 7th Framework Programme (FP7) (period 2007 – 2013) counts on a budget line partially devoted to renewable energy. The total budget allocated to FP7 is €50.521 billion (current prices), with €2.35 billion is dedicated to non-nuclear energy (€335 million per year), out of which at least 50% will be dedicated to renewable energy and energy efficiency in the period 2007-2013 (€167 million per year). Nuclear fusion and fission energy will receive €550 million per year in research funding under the FP7 Euratom Research Framework in 2007-2011. Hence, renewable energy and energy efficiency will receive only about 30 % of the sum available for nuclear energy research.
EREC believes that national and EU R&D support should reflect the new RES Directive (Directive 2009/28/EC) and its binding target for increasing the share of renewable energy to at least 20% by 2020. Moreover, providing support to renewable energy R&D projects would help the EU to fulfill both its former Lisbon goal (i.e. increasing R&D spending to 3% of its GDP by 2010/2020) and its RES target. The new climate and energy priorities should therefore be reflected in the allocations of FP7 and the budget for renewable energy projects should be increased dramatically at the mid-term review of FP7 (currently in process).
In addition, by acknowledging the chronic underinvestment that has affected the energy sector since the 1980s, the European Commission launched in 2007 the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan).
The intention of the SET-Plan is to help overcome the fragmentation of the European research and innovation base, leading to a better overall balance between cooperation and competition. In addition, by encouraging more focus and coordination between different funding schemes its aim is to optimise investments.
Figure 2: “Waves” of technology deployment as outlined in the SET-Plan
The SET-Plan proposes some key technologies to build European Industrial Initiatives (EII), such as a the European Wind Initiative, the Solar Initiative or the Bioenergy Initiative, to significantly increase R&D budgets.
EREC very much welcomes the renewable energy EIIs and encourages both the European Commission and Member States to urgently execute the respective implementation plans by putting in place effective financial mechanisms as well as increasing public budgets for R&D.
At the same time, EREC believes that there is a need for further action, in particular to include those RES technologies that are currently not addressed in the SET-Plan, in order to rapidly progress towards Europe´s 2020 and 2050 ambitions. The European Commission should therefore come forward with new EIIs in the SET-Plan complementary to the windpower, solar electricity and bioenergy initiatives, namely on geothermal and solar thermal, hydropower and ocean energy, as well as include the existing renewables heating and cooling platform.