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Non-nuclear energy

The ERA in Sustainable Energy Systems

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The challenges facing Sustainable Energy Systems (SES) R&D are of a scale and complexity that require a paradigm shift in Europe’s current fragmented approach to research. A new culture needs to develop where European, national and regional programmes complement one another, do not overlap or conflict, but add value to each other. SES R&D needs the new vision of a European Research Area (ERA) to compete effectively against international competition.

Sunflower is an old and traditional oil crop
Work towards this goal has started under the Fifth Framework Programme and is underway in all of the research areas within the broad field of Sustainable Energy Systems. The Sixth Framework Programme will reinforce and consolidate this process.

An independent study on the development of the ERA in SES research has recently been carried out and the resulting report is now available. It analyses the progress made to date and makes recommendations for future activities.

A six-page brochure on the ERA in SES research is also available on the publications page of this site.

Why is a new approach to SES research needed?

The challenges facing research in SES pressing and complex, with profound implications for society and the environment:

  • The research issues cross national frontiers and in many cases require pan-European solutions.
  • Sustainable Energy Systems requires not only technological but also infrastructural, regulatory, policy, economic, societal and cultural dimensions.
  • Solutions often draw on research resources from numerous disciplines including energy, engineering, physics, chemistry, information and communications technology, biology, geology, economics and sociology.
  • Sustainable energy technologies provide massive opportunities for European industry to compete in global markets.
  • European Sustainable Energy Systems faces stiff competition from other large countries with large, well co-ordinated programmes in strategically critical areas.

The European Research Area (ERA) will address these challenges. It will bring together research resources across Europe as never before. However, the creation of the ERA will not happen overnight. Preparatory work - and a fundamental shift in policies and structures - will be needed over a sustained period in order to create the necessary conditions for a single unified research market in Europe.

Preparing for the ERA

Movement towards the ERA in Sustainable Energy Systems requires a great deal of preparation. This necessary work includes:

  • Mapping European, national and regional research policies, priorities and programmes and benchmarking the progress made to date in RTD;
  • Identifying existing scientific excellence in Europe, together with their research fields, priorities, activities and resources;
  • Creating co-operative links between the European research community and industry, in order to work collaboratively towards shared research programmes and an integration of efforts;
  • Developing suitable structures to facilitate evolution towards a truly co-ordinated European research programme;
  • Identifying what prenormative research work is needed to enable effective implementation of RTD results. This includes contributions to developing standards, test procedures, regulatory frameworks and infrastructures.

A great deal of work is presently going on in SES research, to ensure that the priority areas will be able to develop further towards achieving the ERA. Full exploitation of the opportunities offered by the Sixth Framework Programme will serve as an important driver of the European Research Area.

Work in progress

Hydrogen car being refuelled

Examples of preparatory activities include:

  • In the area of hydrogen and fuel cells, a running project (FHIRST) is studying alternative management, advisory and networking structures for ERA. A parallel initiative by the Commission proposes a Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Technology Platform to bring all existing activities into an overall structure. The aim is to permit the development of comprehensive RTD strategies and a balanced and active participation of all stakeholders including industry, academics and national administrations.
  • In some topics, existing large projects already involve a critical mass of important European researchers in activities that embody a long-term RTD strategy. The DISPOWER (distributed generation) project brings together around 40 key actors such as electrical utilities, power industry, consultants and research institutions in a structure that already incorporates many features of the proposed Integrated Project model.
  • The PVNET thematic network within the field of photovoltaics technologies is developing a comprehensive road map for PV RTD, based on a broad consensus within the European PV community. A “sister” network PV-EC-NET is benchmarking national and European programmes as a first step towards achieving its objective of better co-ordination of national activities in PV.
  • The Commission is developing a series of Scientific and Technology References and Indicators providing RTD benchmarks and goals for all of the areas of SES research.

Similar activities are underway in all areas of non-nuclear energy systems, including clean coal, gas turbines and CHP, oil & gas, bioenergy, wind and wave energy, socio-economic research and energy in buildings.

Moving on

Progress has been made in establishing the ERA, and many existing actions are expected to bring the principal European actors in SES RTD together as never before. This collaboration has already resulted in the submission of a set of well-conceived Expressions of Interest addressing the main priorities identified for the Sixth Framework Programme.

An independent study carried out for the Commission in mid-2002 concluded that excellent progress is being made in establishing the necessary linkages and structures needed to develop co-ordinated RTD strategies in the key research areas for non-nuclear energy systems. More work will be needed to establish effective European structural links between existing activities and the new kinds of action being developed in the Sixth Framework Programme.

Further work will be needed to map the existing RTD work being carried out at a national or regional level, and to co-ordinate such programmes so that meaningful RTD can be carried out at a European level. This is a fundamental task involving Member States to help achieve the ERA.

Establishment of the ERA is vital to the ability of European SES RTD to compete on a global stage. The opportunities that a successful ERA will provide in terms of knowledge generation and competitive edge are immense.

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