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 Eu and energy research

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Non-nuclear energy

Key Objectives

Fission and radiation protection
Fusion
   

Moving towards sustainable development would not be possible without substantial research, technological development and demonstration (RTD) in the energy field.

Promoting sustainable development

Power station
And, without energy RTD, it would not be feasible for developed countries to meet their internationally agreed commitments, such as those considered under the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions. The decoupling of environmental degradation and resource consumption from economic and social development is a key challenge for energy research. It will require a major reorientation of public and private investment towards new, cost-effective and environmentally friendly technologies.

Changing energy production and use
It is clear that our patterns of energy production and use must change radically. If we continue to satisfy energy demands by burning large quantities of fossil fuels, we will be faced with growing concerns. These are not only the rapid depletion of valuable resources but also the widely accepted menace of global climate change, driven by the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2). We must also include the health problems associated with atmospheric pollution in densely populated areas.

The equation is simple. To meet the needs and expectations of developed and developing countries alike, the world’s energy supply will probably have to at least double over the next 50 years. The long-term strategy for our energy supply is to develop new large- and small-scale resources capable of meeting these needs in a sustainable manner, without damaging the local or global environment.

Examples of how energy research can contribute to sustainable development:

Fuel cells - current research is demonstrating that fuel cells, using hydrogen not hydrocarbons as a fuel source, have the potential to replace a large part of the current combustion systems in all energy end-use sectors.

Energy-efficient buildings - continued RTD effort is helping to achieve significant reductions in energy-use in buildings, which account for some 40% of the EU’s total energy requirements.

Nuclear fission - continuing studies on:

  • safer and innovative concepts and facilities
  • safer and effective waste management, and
  • more efficient fuels to reduce the long-term impact of the waste generated.

All will help to promote this zero-CO2 emission means of energy production

Nuclear fusion - the joint construction of a prototype reactor is the next stage in a long-term research effort to develop a potentially unlimited world energy source.

Ensuring security and diversity of energy supply

Pylon

Making use of the knowledge and technologies developed by energy research programmes will enable the EU, alongside other developed countries, to implement a strategy for sustainable long-term energy supplies.

This approach will ensure the uninterrupted availability of energy products on the market at an affordable price for all consumers. The benefits of such activities will be manifold:

  • developing more energy options
  • greater stability of prices, and
  • enhancing security of supply.

Europe depends on energy imports
Internal energy resources cannot meet energy consumption requirements, in most countries. The EU, in particular, is faced with a continually increasing dependence on external energy resources. This necessitates the import of more and more energy products, particularly:

  • oil
  • natural gas, and
  • coal.

If no measures are taken, in the next 20 to 30 years 70% of the EU’s energy requirements will have to be covered by imported products, according to the Commission’s Green Paper on the security of energy supply.

Examples of how energy research contributes to security and diversity of energy supply:

Energy technologies that reduces Europe’s dependence on energy imports are:

  • nuclear fission
  • nuclear fusion (in the longer term)
  • new cleaner combustion technologies, and
  • renewable energy sources

Energy research is driving the development of such technologies, thus ensuring that we can take better charge of our own energy future. Reducing energy dependence also calls for actions to control and reduce energy demand - again, energy research is providing the innovation to make this possible.

Improving industrial competitiveness

Factory

Energy research helps to reduce energy costs and to generate technical innovations. Both enhance Europe’s industrial competitiveness.

Industry and energy go hand in hand - the one cannot function without the other. Although often regarded as a fixed overhead in the past, it is now clear that controlling energy costs should be an essential element in any enterprise’s drive for increased competitiveness.

Energy research helps in two main ways by:

  • developing know-how and technologies to reduce the energy demand of products and production processes, and to ensure a continuous energy supply
  • reducing the cost of energy itself through improvements in the supply and distribution chain

Innovation is a key R&D objective
Technical innovation
provides an incentive for enterprises either to carry out R&D themselves or by getting involved in shared cost research actions along with other partners. The latter approach tends to be particularly beneficial, as a critical mass of research activity is often needed to provide effective solutions to complex multidisciplinary problems.

Enhancing industrial competitiveness is therefore also about technological innovation. This means the generation of new:

  • products
  • services, and
  • processes.

R&D can thus help businesses survive in the highly competitive environment of today’s global market place, where no enterprise can afford to stand still. This is as true for the energy sector as for all other industries.

Examples of how energy research contributes to industrial competitiveness:

Europe is at the leading edge in renewable energies. Export competitiveness is a major driver for Europe’s renewable energy technology development - for example, Denmark accounts for almost three-quarters of all international wind turbine exports.

The co-ordinated Europe-wide fusion research programme has helped the EU to become a leading player in this field. Nuclear fission technology is also one of Europe’s major exports. Continued research into ‘breakthrough’ technologies will ensure that this cutting edge is maintained.

Enhancing economic and social cohesion

Countryside

Energy research can contribute to overcoming many economic and social problems. Advances in technology made possible through R&D are expanding sectors in the energy industry and creating jobs. And providing an energy supply to support remote communities

In combination with other policies and measures, energy research can contribute to solving various social dilemmas. If energy is fundamental to all human activity, then the lack of energy can have serious consequences. Whether due to location - remote or island communities - or inadequate means - low-income households - lack of access to a cheap and reliable supply of energy can have debilitating effects on individuals and communities.

Energy research creates new jobs
The energy sector, driven by constant innovation, can provide a source of stable and fulfilling employment. The scope for job creation is particularly strong in both the expanding energy equipment industry and the renewable energy sector. Many countries, especially in the European Union, currently perceive unemployment as the most severe social and economic problem they have to confront.

Advances in technology made possible through R&D are driving changes in the energy industry. Energy market liberalization, a key process in European integration, is leading to the unbundling of a range of energy activities and prices. For example, Europe’s electricity sector is undergoing rapid change, not only in terms of ownership, but also with new entrants, particularly in the gas, combined heat & power (CHP) and renewable energy sectors.

Examples of how energy research can contribute to economic and social cohesion:

Distributed generation - the trend towards smaller-scale generation nearer to the point of energy use will have significant benefits for remote communities. However, there remain many technical and non-technical barriers to overcome before such systems become economically viable.

Biomass for energy - whilst much of the energy sector is capital intensive, employing generally skilled and technical personnel, the future development of biomass for energy also holds out the promise of increased employment in the agricultural sector, an area that has witnessed a dramatic decline in recent years.

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