Brussels, 09 Mar 2006
Stimulating innovation in energy technologies and boosting the European research effort would both be key priorities of a new European Energy Policy, according to plans set out in a Green Paper by the Commission on 8 March.
The document, which is intended to spark a debate on whether Europe needs a common energy strategy and suggest possible areas for action, says that the development of new energy technologies is a prerequisite for delivering security of supply, sustainability and industrial competitiveness.
'The EU needs an appropriately resourced strategic energy technology plan,' states the Green Paper. 'This should accelerate the development of promising energy technologies, but should also help to create the conditions to bring such technologies efficiently and effectively to the EU and the world markets. Research in areas of high energy use - housing, transport, agriculture, agro-industrials, and materials - should also be addressed.'
Such a strategic plan would build on existing European technology platforms and have the option of creating joint technology initiatives to develop lead markets for energy innovation. The strategic plan 'should be presented as soon as possible to the European Council and Parliament for endorsement,' states the Green Paper.
Throughout the proposals a strong emphasis is placed on renewables and energy efficiency, both as a means for tackling climate change and to increase Europe's competitiveness and create new jobs. The EU market for renewable energies, the paper points out, currently has an annual turnover of 15 billion euro - equivalent to half the world market - and employs some 300,000 people.
'Research can [...] bring commercial opportunities,' it continues. 'Energy efficient and low carbon technologies constitute a rapidly growing international market that will be worth billions of euros in the coming years. Europe must ensure that its industries are world leaders in these new generations of technologies and processes.'
Research has already helped to identify new renewable sources of energy and drive energy efficiency, acknowledges the Green Paper, but the magnitude of the energy challenge facing Europe calls for increased efforts and a long term commitment. The Commission says that the Seventh Framework Programme and the European Institute of Technology could both play an important role, and that European Technology Platforms on biofuels, hydrogen, photovoltaics, and clean coal can contribute by developing common research agendas and deployment strategies.
However, it adds that: 'The EU needs to consider ways to finance a more strategic approach to energy research, taking further steps towards integrating and coordinating Community and national research and innovation programmes and budgets.' Greater efforts at European level will help to reduce overlaps in national programmes and keep the focus on agreed EU-level goals, it feels.
Reacting to the proposals, the President of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, Jeremy Rifkin, said the Commission is to be congratulated on the publication of its Green Paper, describing it as a welcome contribution to the current energy debate. Mr Rifkin was an advisor to former Commission President Romano Prodi, and his strategic memorandum contributed to the establishment in January 2004 of the Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Technology Platform
Mr Rifkin urged the EU to set itself the goal of being free of all carbon producing fossil fuels and nuclear power by 2030, and in their place introduce renewable energies and a hydrogen economy. 'This Green Paper takes on an even deeper significance when coupled with the enormous efforts that have already taken place within the European Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Technology Platform to usher in a hydrogen era. The EU is already well along the road to a hydrogen future but now needs a commensurate political commitment to bring the new technologies to market,' he concluded.