Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs: Solar Energy for the Future - Launch of the “European Solar Thermal Technology Platform”

May 31, 2006

Brussels, 30 May 2006

Launch of the “European Solar Thermal Technology Platform”
Brussels, 30 May 2006

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a great pleasure to participate in the launching of the European Solar Thermal Technology Platform. I would like to congratulate the members of the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation for this initiative.

The solar thermal sector will play an important role in the future, contributing to a sustainable and competitive Energy Policy in Europe.

Challenges and Future Energy Strategy

The Green Paper on a “European Strategy for Sustainable, Competitive and Secure Energy” recently adopted by the Commission represents a new beginning for energy policy in Europe. It marks a real change in direction, creates coherence and signals the increased consciousness that energy is now truly a global issue – whether we are concerned with the need for new investment in oil and gas to meet the rapidly increasing world demand or the challenges of global warming.

EU citizens are worried by our dependency on imports and high, volatile prices and the impact of energy on the environment.

The Green Paper puts forward the overall framework for such a common policy and establishes three objectives: sustainable development, competitiveness and security of supply.

In six policy areas concrete actions are necessary:

1. The EU needs to complete the internal gas and electricity markets by developing fully competitive internal energy markets in Europe.

2. The EU needs to ensure that its internal energy market guarantees security of supply and solidarity between Member States.

3. We need a real European-wide debate on our energy
mix. The “Strategic EU Energy Review” will offer a clear framework for national decisions on the energy mix and the result could be to move towards an overall “Strategic European Energy Objective” at European level. The Spring European Council welcomed the Commission's intention to present this Strategic Energy Review on a regular basis, starting end of this year.

4. Europe needs to tackle climate change in a manner compatible with its Lisbon objectives.

If the EU is to reduce its CO2 emissions by 50% or more in the coming decades, a major increase of our energy efficiency and in the use of carbon free energy sources will be required.

  • The Commission will, in September, propose an “Action Plan on Energy Efficiency”
  • The Commission will – end of this year - bring forward a “Renewable Energy Road Map” consisting in particular on the following:
  • How best to achieve existing targets for 2010
  • Possible new renewable targets, in order to provide long term certainty for industry and investors. The European Council invited us to consider a 2015 increased target for all renewables (15%) and a specific one for biofuels (8%). Impact studies will be carried out.
  • Enumerate other initiatives, e.g. on heating and cooling, link to research, environment etc.
  • Future actions which should build on the existing Biomass Action Plan and the recently adopted Strategy for Biofuels.
The aim of this roadmap is to create a coherent approach on the future development of renewables. Together with the Annual Strategic Energy Review it will establish renewables as a stable part of the energy mix. The roadmap will explain how existing and future targets could be achieved.

5. We will also elaborate a “Strategic Energy Technology Plan”, making best use of Europe’s resources, building on European technology platforms and with the option of joint technology initiatives or joint undertakings to develop leading markets for energy innovation.

The Commission’s proposal for the 7th R&D Framework Programme 2007-2013 intends to tackle EU under-investment in research compared to the US and Japan by exerting leverage on national and private investment. Main energy priorities for the period are: hydrogen and fuel cells, renewable power generation, fuel production and heating and cooling technologies, clean coal, CO2 capture and storage for near zero emission generation and energy efficiency and savings.

6. Last but not least Europe needs to define clearly its goals and aspirations regarding its international energy partners and speak with one voice.

Technology Platforms

It is very important to see the European Solar Thermal Technology Platform in this general context, I just outlined, regarding the European Energy Strategy. The Technology Platform is a perfect example on the integrated approach, i.e. how to combine environment-research and innovation aspects.

European Technology Platforms have already been established for photovoltaic energy, smart grids, hydrogen and fuel cells, bio-fuels and clean coal. And new ones could soon be created such as for the wind sector.

The research agendas and the deployment strategies prepared within the context of the Platforms represent an important input to develop the priorities of the Framework Programme for Research of the European Union.

European Solar Thermal Sector

I believe that the creation of the Solar Thermal Technology Platform can be of great use for this sector in Europe where there is a clear potential for improvement:

Firstly, I have to highlight the existing gap between the installed capacity and our objectives. Even though the solar market shows encouraging signals, with a sustained growth of around 12% per year over the last 3-4 years, at the end of 2004, the installed thermal capacity of collectors in EU 25 was just about 10 GW. This corresponds to 15.5 million square meters of collectors and is well below the EU target of 100 millions square meters by 2010, fixed in the White Paper in 1997.

In addition, solar thermal installations are not equally distributed across the EU. Germany, Austria, Greece and Cyprus represent about 80% of the EU installed solar thermal capacity. There is no doubt that good market conditions have fostered market penetration in these countries and that this is a success story that could be extended all over Europe by taking EU-wide measures for market development.

The Commission services are working on the preparation of an initiative concerning the heating and cooling sectors which will consider the global context of the solar thermal sector when defining priorities. However, the industry should also reflect on the reasons of the low market penetration in many European countries and, particularly, in southern countries.

Secondly, in spite of the fact that EU industry is the leader in solar thermal technologies the EU produces only 10% of the world’s total output of solar panels. To increase our world market share and maintain our technology leadership should be a priority.

On the European Solar Thermal Technology Platform

I am convinced that the EU Industry and research institutions have the capacity to do so. The EU needs to maintain a high level of innovative products, for example, to develop new generation of collectors, to design and bring to the market new storages systems, new heating and cooling systems for domestic, tertiary and industrial applications. This is vital to secure the competitiveness of our industry.

In this sense, I am very pleased by the initiative taken through the leadership of ESTIF. I really appreciate the way Technological Platforms contribute to the future technology developments. It is essential that various actors of the market cooperate in establishing future perspectives. In particular, the gathering of experts from industry and research is a powerful driver for market development and other related socio-economic and environmental benefits. Moreover, the full commitment of the private industry in the Research & Demonstration domain can only help in reaching the objectives of the Lisbon strategy. I think that this platform should be a real driving force in this domain.

I am convinced that joining our efforts, the Commission and the ESTIF members will succeed in bringing the solar thermal energy at the place it deserves in the market. I also believe that this will contribute to move towards sustainable energy schemes, to improve EU industry competitiveness and job creation.

Developing a European energy policy is a long term challenge. It requires understanding, commitment and collaboration from all stakeholders. And the leading role of industry in facilitating so, from large energy consumers to the smallest of firms, is crucial.

I believe that this platform is the beginning of this successful co-operation which will be of great use for the European citizens and industry. I wish you a great success.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Item source: SPEECH/06/334 Date: 30/05/2006

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