One of the most important tasks facing the world today is the need to reduce its dependence on oil and other fossil fuels. Nowhere is this felt more keenly than in the transport sector, which alone accounts for some 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
© Fotolia, 2012
In response, car manufacturers around the world are focusing intensely on developing prototype electric vehicles. China, for example, has set a target that 50% of new vehicles on its roads should be electric by 2020.
Although it is widely recognised that electric cars will only make a significant difference if they are accompanied by a move towards smart grids and cleaner electricity generation, global competition for the electric vehicle market will be intense.
The speed with which car manufacturers and their suppliers are able to develop these new vehicles and bring them to market is likely to be a decisive factor.
The European Green Cars Initiative (EGCI), announced by the European Commission in 2008, was an important step in boosting the European industry's competitiveness in this race. Bringing together the three key industries involved in the effort to introduce electric vehicles onto Europe's roads the automotive industry itself, the ICT sector which will be needed to supply the required 'smart' technologies, and the electricity supply industry the aim was to stimulate the development of the common technologies and standards needed to make electric vehicles a practical reality across the continent.
Since this is an objective which cannot be achieved at individual national or company level, cooperation between otherwise competing European companies is vital. Major manufacturers including Volkswagen, Volvo, Renault and Fiat are among the partners involved in more than 50 research projects receiving funding from the European Green Cars Initiative, focusing on areas ranging from intelligent electrical re-charging systems, to the safety of electric vehicles, to harmonised standards for batteries which can be used across all makes of vehicle.
To help achieve the goals of the European Green Cars Initiative, the European Commission recognised that research efforts taking place at national level within the Member States needed to be brought together, as far as possible, within a unified, Europe-wide approach. This approach would minimise the risks of duplication or fragmentation of research efforts.
For this reason, one important part of the European Green Cars Initiative was aimed at providing incentives for greater transnational cooperation between individual ministries and other agencies within separate EU Member States, in order to generate closer collaboration between nationally based research projects.
Known as ELECTROMOBILITY+, the initiative offered EU funding to cover up to one-third of the total project cost, if individual nationally-based consortia were able to find ways of cooperating with counterparts in other Member States.
In response, 20 proposals for such collaborations are eligible for funding, with the first of these transnational projects due to start in spring 2012.
These projects cover key areas such as research into the safety of electrical vehicles, wireless electrical charging systems and development of fuel cells.
Since the results of these projects become the property of all consortium members, the benefits to participants are significant. As ELECTROMOBILITY+ coordinator Oliver Althoff explains, a participant may contribute €500 000 of the costs, but benefit from outcomes worth €2.5 million.
As well as benefiting Europe in terms of the environmental advantages of greener vehicles, the European Green Cars Initiative and ELECTROMOBILITY+ are providing important support to Europe's global competitiveness. By cooperating within Europe as a result of these initiatives, European companies are enabling themselves to compete on the global stage in a way which otherwise would not have been possible.