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European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
SET Plan Conference
Opening session / Dublin
7 May 2013
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour to open this sixth Conference of the Strategic Energy Technology Plan.
I'm delighted to have the opportunity to talk to such an expert audience about the developments on the horizon for energy research and innovation at the European level.
Energy plays a crucial role in reaching our goal of a sustainable and secure low-carbon economy that meets our climate and energy targets.
And delivering sustainable growth in the vast and expanding energy sector also creates opportunities to boost the competitiveness of European businesses, create new markets and new job opportunities, and strengthen our industrial base.
We rely on top quality research and constant innovation to make these energy goals a reality.
In 2008, the innovation process in energy technology was largely based on national programmes and incentives, using national resources to meet national objectives and targets.
This model had its roots in an earlier era of cheap energy and fewer carbon constraints.
So we needed new policies to bring about the changes required of the energy sector in the 21st century.
Since 2008, the SET Plan is our roadmap for implementing these changes. It is the reference point for European, national, regional and private investment in energy research and innovation, prioritising the technologies that are most relevant to our energy and climate policies for 2020.
The Plan was backed by substantial investments at the European level, in particular from the 7th Framework Programme for Research, FP7, for which I am responsible.
Different parts of FP7 have contributed. Between 2007 and 2012 the Energy theme supported the SET Plan's technology priorities with funding of around 1.8 billion Euro to over 350 projects. Further support has come from other parts of FP7, such as materials research and the Risk Sharing Finance Facility.
This investment has already led to many successes such as the first concentrating solar power tower in Europe to commercially and reliably provide solar electricity to the grid.
Or take the nine large-scale lignocellulose biofuel demonstration projects with capacities of 40 to 80 thousand tonnes per year; the first demonstrations of floating platforms for offshore wind; or the project that used fuel cell technology to make zero emission hydrogen buses operational in several European cities.
You can find out more about these and other success stories in the short films that will be presented during the break.
EU-level support has also been provided through the European Institute of Technology and substantial additional funding has come from the European energy Recovery Programme and the NER 300 Programme.
The public investment has leveraged impressive levels of funding from the private sector. Today, 70% of the total research and innovation investment in SET Plan priorities comes from industry, with 20% from Member States and 10% from the European Commission.
Besides this financial investment, other policy initiatives, particularly Innovation Union and the European Research Area, have helped support SET Plan objectives by improving the framework conditions.
Five years on, the SET Plan remains our core policy instrument. But it needs reinforcing and updating, to better respond to new challenges and to better consolidate research and innovation across Europe.
That is why the Commission has published the new Communication on Energy Technologies and Innovation.
Commissioner Oettinger will present later today, so I would like to concentrate on the developments in the European research and innovation landscape that set the context for this new Communication.
The biggest change comes with Horizon 2020, the new European programme for research and innovation that begins next year.
Horizon 2020 represents a huge change from the FP7 and the previous Research Framework Programmes because for the first time it brings all EU funding for research and innovation together in one place.
With Horizon 2020, we want to make it easier to participate in EU-funded research and innovation actions, to increase scientific and economic impact, and give the taxpayer better results and better value for money – this is particularly important today when every euro counts.
Horizon 2020 strikes the right balance between supporting excellent science, boosting the competitiveness of our industries and tackling societal challenges.
While Horizon 2020 will step up support for excellent research in Europe – including through the very successful European Research Council - there is a greater focus on innovation and economic impact – an approach perfectly in tune with the new Communication's focus on innovation in the energy sector
Horizon 2020 will provide a coherent set of funding instruments and practical support along the entire innovation chain, from basic research to close-to-market actions.
Another major reform ushered in by Horizon 2020 is how it focuses research and innovation on our biggest societal challenges, including the key challenge of 'Secure, clean and efficient energy'.
The proposal that we have developed for the energy challenge fully supports the implementation of the SET Plan, but other challenges, such as on climate change or food security, will make important contributions.
These challenges will also be complemented by Horizon 2020's investment in basic research, support for the development of Key Enabling Technologies such as ICT, nanotechnologies and biotech, as well as a separate but complementary programme for nuclear energy activities under the Euratom Treaty.
Horizon 2020 will strengthen European funding for research and innovation. I also want to mention the policy support at European level to achieve Innovation Union and the European Research Area.
Innovation Union aims to improve the basic conditions that enable companies to grow and entrepreneurs to flourish. We are making excellent progress on the 34 different commitments contained in Innovation Union, including successes such as the Unitary Patent, the European Passport for venture capital funds and modernised public procurement rules to encourage the take-up of innovative products and services.
One of Innovation Union's biggest commitments is to achieve the European Research Area, or ERA.
Think of ERA as a European Single Market for research, knowledge and ideas. It aims to spread excellence and get better value for money by encouraging cross-border collaboration and open innovation.
The ERA Communication adopted by the Commission last July called on Member States to remove any legal or practical barriers to the cross-border interoperability of national research programmes.
Research-funding organisations should work together to align their funding in a particular area to join forces on our biggest challenges and avoid unnecessary duplication.
This is what joint programming is all about, and the SET Plan is rightly considered a pioneer in this way of organising research.
In 2008, the Plan established a strategic framework and governance at EU level so that Member States, industry and the research community could all work together to develop and bring to market low-carbon energy technologies.
We should be proud of the SET Plan's achievements but there is still a lot of work to be done.
We need to develop in the coming decade a truly European research and innovation ecosystem in the energy sector that builds on national capacities and covers the entire innovation chain from blue sky research to market up-take measures.
Yes, this is very ambitious, but we have a good start with the European mechanisms that are already in place. I am thinking in particular of the European Industrial Initiatives and the European Energy Research Alliance of the SET Plan, the various European Technology Platforms and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology's KIC, InnoEnergy.
We need to build on these and strengthen their role in the EU research landscape.
But this is only one part of the challenge. We need to fuel this ecosystem with an increased coordination of national energy research and innovation policies and joint actions to deliver the common objectives more quickly and effectively.
Joint actions between the European Union, and the Member States and Associated Countries are an increasing priority of the SET Plan.
They have already produced some concrete results such as the first use of the ERA-NET Plus instrument to coordinate national funding for demonstration projects.
This ERA-NET Plus focuses on demonstrating the advanced bioenergy value chains prioritised in the SET Plan European Bioenergy Industrial Initiative through a joint call between eight countries. The call is expected to leverage around 100 million Euro of both private and public money from a European contribution of 15 million Euro.
This is the type of action that will make the SET Plan work and I encourage the Steering Group of the SET Plan to expand this approach.
I am also aware of Member States' interest in a more ‘multilateral’ approach where each partner in a joint project receives funding from its respective national funding agency.
I can only encourage you to keep pursuing these innovative and promising ways of joining our forces and resources together.
Here again, the SET Plan is quite advanced with the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA).
The EERA is now a vibrant initiative with 13 Joint Research Programmes already launched and more than 150 research organisations participating. You have worked hard to get this far and now you need to deliver and show that working together brings real added value.
The EERA is an excellent example of Joint Programming in practice.
In my speech to the Joint Programming conference here in February under the Irish Presidency, I specifically mentioned the EERA, which I believe can provide lessons to joint programmes in other areas of research. This is particularly important for institutional funding, which is something that is missing in many other joint programmes.
My overall message on joint programming is that we need to collectively move from setting agendas to full implementation.
The Commission is of course fully ready to support this implementation, including through Horizon 2020. But the main funding for implementation must come from Member State programmes, which should be aligned with the agreed European level priorities.
This not only makes sense for achieving the objectives, it also will enable Member States to make better use of and get more impact from their scarce public funding for research.
The new Communication on Energy Technologies and Innovation sets out the next steps in implementing the Innovation Union and the European Research Area in the field of energy research and innovation.
This is about bringing together energy research and innovation funding so that we can provide the support from basic research to technology development to market uptake. In Horizon 2020 we have done exactly this, by integrating the energy research activities with the innovation activities that are currently under the Intelligent Energy for Europe programme.
The Energy Technology and Innovation Communication also promotes a challenge-based approach.
This means addressing the whole system and forging interdisciplinary approaches across the different technologies, sectors or scientific disciplines.
Social sciences and humanities are extremely relevant, for example to properly understand consumer behaviour and attitudes towards new energy technologies.
It is also about stimulating the demand for innovation by providing support for setting the necessary technical standards, for public procurement of innovation and for improving the regulatory frameworks.
The new Communication that Commissioner Oettinger will present later also sets the course for the next stage in joint programming and the European Research Area for energy.
Under the SET Plan, you have led the way in creating a true European Research Area and I am convinced that the new strategy provides the foundations for the further improvements needed.
We will also see a strong role for the Joint Research Centre, as the Commission's in-house science service, providing the information needed as a solid basis for policy-making.
Ladies and gentlemen,
While the European Union is passing through a difficult period, it can be easy to lose sight of the things that Europe does well, of the advantages to working together at European level for everyone's benefit.
Though not widely known to the general public, the SET Plan is an excellent example of the kind of joint project that Europe does brilliantly.
But we're approaching a crunch time now, when we have to move from visions and agendas to concrete implementation.
The vision that inspired the SET Plan - a Europe with a thriving and sustainable economy, with world leadership in a diverse portfolio of clean, efficient and low-carbon energy technologies - is closer but still not yet in place.
The coming months and years will be even more challenging and a real test of our commitment and your commitment with the SET- Plan joint Programming.
You are best placed to determine your strengths and capacities, to identify where you can restructure your efforts to pool them with other countries, and to spot unnecessary overlaps. In this way, you will get the maximum impact from your resources.
If we really want to succeed, Europe cannot afford to ignore the economies of scale and efficiencies that a concerted European research and innovation effort can deliver. We have no other choice but to work together.
I firmly believe that with strong political support and commitment from Member States, we will soon produce concrete results.
A strong partnership will be essential to successfully tackle the challenges that lie ahead.
I am very much looking forward to hearing your views on these ideas.
So I wish you an excellent conference, full of inspiring ideas and interesting discussions.