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Cooking a dinner, heating a house, lighting a street, keeping a hospital open, running a factory – all these require energy. Energy is thus at the heart of everybody's quality of life and a crucial factor for economic competitiveness and employment. But global population and energy needs increase hand-in-hand and the current fossil-fuel based energy system is not sustainable as it contributes substantially to climate change and depends heavily on imports from very few countries. Answers to the dual challenge of satisfying increasing energy needs and combating climate change at the same time are urgently needed and energy research can play an essential role. Europe can not move towards sustainable growth without radical changes in the way it generates and uses energy.

The key objectives of the European energy research policy are to promote sustainable development, to ensure security and diversity of energy supply, to improve energy efficiency and to increase industrial competitiveness. To reach these objectives, the European Commission has defined, in the so called European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan), key milestones for the technology development of the next decades and new ways of more effective cooperation. This initiative brings together all actors at different levels – governments, industry, research centres and academia – to join forces and work together for a more sustainable energy system. The concept of a truly "European Research Area" (ERA), that pools available resources and knowledge across Europe to avoid fragmentation and overlapping, is thus put into reality.

The main instruments at the disposal of the EU to support these actions are the Research Framework Programmes with a total of around EUR 5 billion for the period 2007-2013. This budget is split as follows: around EUR 2.35 billion are available for energy (non-nuclear) research, under the 7th Framework Programme (FP7, 2007-2013) in the areas of hydrogen and fuel cells, renewable electricity generation, renewable fuel production, renewables for heating and cooling, CO2 capture and storage technologies for zero emission power generation, clean coal technologies, smart energy networks, energy efficiency and savings as well as knowledge for energy policy making. On the other hand, EUR 2.751 billion have been earmarked by the 7th Euratom Framework Programme (2007-2011) for nuclear energy research like fusion, fission, radiation protection and the funding of Joint Research Centre activities, including the construction of ITER project.