Europe has always believed that renewable green energies were our business and that we have no lessons to learn from our transatlantic neighbours. At this point in time, the European Union is still the global leader in renewable energies and energy efficiency. But places like California have woken up and realised that with fossil fuels being more scarce and expensive and climate change coming high on the agenda, green energies will not only be a fair choice, but also good business. We are embarking on a “green” race in which the prize is a vast market with important investment opportunities. If Europe wants to have the leading role in this race we will need to have the right technologies.
In technological development, our American friends, and particularly the citizens of Schwarzenegger’s State, California, have started to be very active. We need to match American efforts to get the best “green” technology, and this requires a dramatic change in the way we do research. The European energy research strategy was dispersed, un-coordinated and more based in the Academia than in the industry.
If we want success in the green race we will need to focus our efforts, beef them up with more money, concentrate on the “demonstration phase” (when the technology can be developed on a large scale, just before being competitive enough to fly in the market), and involve the real economic sectors where this energy is going to be used in an early stage. This is why we intended when we presented the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan) in 2007, and just one year after its adoption, we begin to see the first encouraging results.
For instance, in the Work Programme 2009 there has been a drastic reduction in the topics in comparison with previous work programmes. The 2008 call for tenders featured only 18 topics. In 2007 there were 46. The share of companies participating in projects has doubled from 2006 to 2008. The commitment of industrial partners moved from often symbolic participation to real engagement of financial and human resources. While in the 2006 call only 4% of all industrial partners committed own funds and resources, this share increased to 58% in 2008. The impact of the projects will increase three fold from 2 million on average in 2006 to 6.4 million last year. The new approach of the SET Plan will lead to 150 Million € in EU grants to 23 projects including renewable production, second generation biofuels, integration of renewable energies and energy efficiency, clean coal combustion and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).
The concentration on fewer projects has reduced substantially the administrative burden and has optimised the increased budged (40% more) giving, if you allow me a Schwarzeneggerian metaphor, more muscle to our research policy. This is precisely what we want to achieve with the SET Plan. It is interesting to consider that the Governor of California made the opening remark of this entry not in the US, but in the CeBIT trade fair for green IT products in Hannover, Germany, showing that Europe is still the front-runner of the current “green” course. Let’s hope that if in the future Mr Schwarzenegger makes good the sentence of his famous character Terminator and “is back” in Europe, it will be to buy our green technology, and not to sell theirs to us.
* Andris Piebalgs, Comissário Europeu para a Energia