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Why Europe needs a Strategic Energy Technology Plan

Commission Européenne - MEMO/07/469   19/11/2007

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Brussels, 19 November 2007

Why Europe needs a Strategic Energy Technology Plan

On 22 November, the European Commission will present the European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan), which was identified as part of the Energy Package proposed by the Commission in January 2007. This background document describes the current situation regarding energy technology in Europe, and introduces the two mapping exercises carried out by the Commission's Joint Research Centre to support this work.

The Energy Challenge

Making the European energy system more sustainable is one of the greatest challenges facing Europe. The EU responded in 2007 by adopting a package of proposals, paving the way towards a future Energy Policy for Europe. It contains a set of ambitious targets for 2020: (i) reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 20% compared to 1990 levels; (ii) reducing primary energy use by 20% (through energy efficiency); (iii) increasing the level of renewable energy in the EU's overall mix to 20%; (iv) minimum target for biofuels of 10% of vehicle fuel. These targets are achievable if appropriate technological strides are taken. Therefore one of the key elements of the Energy policy for Europe is the preparation of a European Strategic Energy Plan, which will 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.

Europe is suffering from accumulated under-investment due to cheap oil. The energy technology and innovation process has structural weaknesses, such as long lead times for new technologies to mass market, locked-in infrastructure investments, diverse market incentives and network connection challenges. Furthermore, the market take-up of new energy technologies is additionally hampered by the nature of the technologies themselves, because they are generally more expensive than the technologies they replace.

There is therefore a need to create a long term EU framework for energy technology development.

Energy RTD expenditure in OECD countries and oil price (Source: OECD 2006)

[Graphic in PDF & Word format]

[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]

Development of public spending on energy R&D spending in selected EU member states, Japan and USA (source: modified IEA database

[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]

Note: The IEA database considers only 17 EU Member States. Furthermore, 2005 database were not available for a number of Member States. In the cases of Finland and the Netherlands, the 2003 data were thus used; similarly, 2004 values were used for Austria. For the year 1992 and 1999, data for Italy were missing but due to the importance of Italy in the overall budget, these gaps were filled, taking into account the data for the previous and coming years. Belgium, Czech Republic, Luxembourg and Greece are not included due to data gaps for more recent years. The effect of the changes in French methodology was not taken into account
Energy public spending relative to GDP 2005

[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]
For most countries, 2005 figures were used. However, there are a number of countries for which another year had to be used due to data shortcomings in more recent years: for Austria, 2004 figures are applied. In the case of Finland and the Netherland, figures for 2003 were used. Belgium, Czech Republic, Luxembourg and, Greece are excluded due to data gaps for more recent years.
Source: IAE database; France: Ministry of Industry

Mapping Europe's Energy Technology Potential

The goal of the technology map is to provide a brief but comprehensive description of the current status and prospects of key energy technologies within the EU - where we are now and what we can expect in the future. Based on this information, the SET-Plan will propose follow-up actions to accelerate low carbon energy technology development and deployment.

  • The report indicates the potential of some 14 energy technologies from wind and solar to decarbonised fossil fuel power generation and nuclear fission and fusion. The evaluation is based on a number of key indicators, namely, CO2 avoided, carbon mitigation cost, fossil fuels saved, and changes in the overall production cost of the energy carrier that the technology produces (electricity, heat, or transport fuel). The time horizon considered for the assessment is 2030.
  • A key finding is the crucial role of innovation to help lower the costs of new technologies and make them available on the market. Supply-side technologies such as wind, solar, hydropower, biofuels, cogeneration of heat and power and zero emission fossil fuel power plants have the potential to contribute towards meeting European goals in the short and medium term. Ocean, fusion energy, new generation nuclear fission reactors and hydrogen & fuel cells are examples of advanced technologies that should be pursued now so they can contribute to the long-term vision of a European sustainable energy system.

Mapping Europe's Energy Research Capacity

The objective of the Capacity Map of Energy Research accompanying the SET Plan is to provide an overview of the energy research capacities both in the public and in the private sector in the EU Member States, and in Japan and the USA for comparison.

  • Public funding for energy R&D in the EU Member States declined between 1991 and 2005 in real terms, reaching around 2.2 bn EUR by 2005. Of this, almost three quarters are concentrated in only three Member States. Private sector investment in energy R&D shows a somewhat similar pattern.
  • Energy R&D priorities vary among Member States, but shared priorities do exist in some technologies (renewable energies, energy efficiency and nuclear-related research) and groups of countries. Synergies in these areas are of utmost importance, because energy requires capital-intensive technologies.
  • Pan-European cooperation in public energy-related research remains low even in areas of shared priorities. National priority setting often does not take into account the research policies of other countries. In conclusion, a priority setting at EU level hardly takes place, making it difficult to exploit synergies.

Better EU coordination is thus required in order to benefit from the economies of scale of the national energy R&D efforts, helping to tackle the climate change and energy security challenges ahead. Recent European Commission’s initiatives such as the ERA-NETs and the Technology Platforms are an important step towards mobilising pan-European cooperation. Also in some Member States, energy R&D has gained new momentum. However, more action is needed. This paves the way for enhanced synchronisation of energy R&D among EU Member States.

It is the intention of the JRC to revisit and update periodically the Technology Map. Energy efficiency, energy intensive industry and also key enabling and transitioning technologies will be studied in detail in the next update in 2008.

The Capacity Map also reveals that information on energy-related R&D is fragmented. This applies both to data on public as well as on private spending. Greater information exchange among Member States and various other actors is a prerequisite to improve cooperation in energy research.

Examples of European energy technology success stories
The project Wave Dragon is the world's first offshore wave energy converter producing power for the grid in Denmark. The project team includes partners from Austria, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Sweden and the UK. Moored in water, the 237 tonnes Wave Dragon recuperates the energy that is generated by 'overtopping' waves. The water is initially stored in a reservoir and then passed through turbines which produce electricity. This prototype corresponds to a 1:4 scale size of the full system. In comparison with traditional hydroelectric power stations, this new technology is competitive and plans to build and deploy power production unit elsewhere in the EU are already underway.


The Sol Air Project uses concentrated solar thermal energy to heat water. The vapour activates turbines which produce electricity. European industry is the owner of this particular technology, unique worldwide. In the future the size of solar power plants using central tower technology could vary form 10 megawatt electrical (MWe) to 100 MWe.
The CASTOR-project consists in the world’s largest pilot plant for demonstrating and validating new technology for the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) from conventional power stations. The pilot at the Elsam power station near Esjberg in Denmark is the result of research carried out with the support of the EU’s Research Framework Programme. This pilot plant is an important part of research that will help develop better processes for carbon capture, increase public acceptance of the technology and achieve a major reduction in its costs.

Nuclear power is today producing one third of the electricity consumed in the EU. Further research is therefore important to support the long term safe operation of nuclear installations. The project NULIFE, pooling together expertise and excellence at EU level, aims to create an integrated long-standing research environment to develop harmonised lifetime assessment methods, qualified procedures and common best practices applicable to all reactors in operation in EU member, associated and candidate states.

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