The European Union's (EU) policy objective of achieving more sustainable energy systems (SES) and services is of great strategic importance to the EU, in both the short and the longer term. The benefits of SES research include:
- reduced environmental impact, including climate change
- increased security and diversity of energy supply, and
- improved industrial competitiveness.
The scope of SES is very wide, covering the:
- development of cleaner energy systems, including renewable energies,
- economical and efficient use of energy, and
- socio-economic aspects of energy.
Current SES research in the EU includes:
- Energy production from renewable sources link 1: Renewable energies can help diversify energy supply with little adverse environmental impact.
- Fuel cells and hydrogen link 8: In the long term, fuel cells may replace most current combustion systems in all energy end-use sectors, from electric vehicles to power plants.
- Cleaner energy from fossil fuels link 11: Here, the research focus is on improving efficiency while reducing production costs and environmental impact.
- Energy storage and distribution link 13: Research on technologies for storing energy at both micro and macro scale and for energy distribution.
- Reduced energy consumption link 16: Reducing the level of demand and using energy much more effectively is a major step towards a sustainable energy system.
- Cross-cutting issues link 17: Research into all those aspects which impact on energy markets and thus on the move towards a sustainable energy supply.
Energy production from renewable sourcesRenewable energies can help diversify energy supply with little adverse environmental impact.
Renewable energy sources tap naturally occurring energy flows to produce electricity, heat and fuel. Such resources are often produced on a stand-alone use close to their point of consumption.
These renewable sources are:
Fuel cells and hydrogenFuel cells may, in the long term, replace most current combustion systems in all energy end-use sectors, from electric vehicles to power plants.
Fuel cells are expected to play a major role in the future supply of energy for both mobile and stationary applications. Such cells use hydrogen which can be derived from a number of other fuels.
- Fuel cells link 24 - essentially an electrochemical energy converter that basically combines hydrogen with oxygen to produce water, electricity and heat. There is no combustion and no greenhouse gas or other polluting emissions are produced.
- Hydrogen link 25 - probably the most promising alternative fuel for the future. Used in fuel cells, it can form the basis of an intrinsically clean, efficient and quiet energy supply.
The European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform link 26 - The EC has facilitated the establishment of this Platform aimed at accelerating the development and deployment of these key technologies in Europe.
Cleaner energy production from fossil fuelsWith fossil fuels, the research focus is on improving efficiency while reducing costs and global and local environmental impact.
Fossil fuels are the conventional energy sources that currently dominate the world's energy supply.
Fossil fuel research topics:
- Coal - reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and other environmental impacts caused by solid fuel combustion, by developing cleaner technologies.
- Oil - developing more efficient exploration, extraction and production technologies for hydrocarbons.
- Gas - improving the energy conversion efficiency of gas combustion processes, particularly by using advanced gas turbines.
- CO2 capture and storage link 27 - reducing greenhouse gas emissions by ensuring that the CO2 produced by electrical power plants is not released into the atmosphere.
Energy storage and distributionResearch on technologies for storing and distributing all types of energy at both micro and macro scale, from electric vehicles to grid-connected power plants.
This includes technologies for improving the efficiency, stability, reliability and safety of energy storage, transmission and distribution. The technologies are applicable for both mobile and stationary applications.
- Storage link 28 - providing reliable and cost-efficient energy storage technologies, including liquid natural gas, liquid petroleum gas, hydrogen and advanced (technology) batteries.
- Distribution - developing technologies for improving the transmission and distribution of electricity, gas and other fuels, and heating and cooling.
- Integration of renewable energy sources and distributed generation link 29 – overcoming both the technical and non-technical problems associated with integrating new distributed energy resources into energy systems
Reduced energy consumptionReducing the energy intensity of demand and using energy much more effectively will be a major step towards achieving a sustainable energy system.
Research addresses energy conservation and use in:
- Buildings - reducing EU energy requirements by 30% by 2010 and 50% in the longer term are the research aims. Currently, the built environment in the EU accounts for about 40% of the total energy requirements.
- Transport - improving the energy and environmental performance of vehicles and the related infrastructure.
- Industry - developing and demonstrating processes and process control technologies aimed at securing a reduction in energy demand in the manufacturing and agriculture sectors.
Cross-cutting issuesResearch on all those aspects that impact on energy markets and thus on the move towards a sustainable energy supply.
This is necessary because the move towards a sustainable energy supply does not rely solely on the development of new technologies.
Such aspects include:
- Socio-economic research - assessing and monitoring the impact of all energy options on society, the environment, the economy and employment.
- Policy-related research - studying the impact and consequences of policies and measures related to energy supply and demand, the economy and the environment.
- Modelling - analysing different strategies for energy production and use, and elaborating short- and long-term scenarios to improve sustainability.
- Data collection - improving the quality of data that underpins the elaboration of policies and strategies.