Energy micro-generation as a complement to large-scale energy solutions not only promises greener energy but it also has the potential to give local businesses and communities the opportunity to directly benefit from implementing energy-saving innovations themselves. Modest amounts of biofuels, for example, can be refined locally and the finished product sold, instead of being exported for processing in large facilities elsewhere. It could also serve as a model, since the solution to tomorrow’s sustainable energy supply is likely to come from a combination of energy sources both large and small.
The RESGen project, funded through the FP7 Regions of Knowledge (RoK) programme, sought to promote regional energy self-sufficiency by coordinating the innovative work of research clusters across the EU involved in decentralised energy-production technologies. Completed in July 2012, the aim of the project was to identify and compare regional methods and capabilities of generating sustainable energy, in order to draw up four different roadmaps and a common Joint Action Plan.
“Nine partners from four different EU regions and countries were involved,” explains project coordinator Jerker Johnson. “Each region was represented by businesses, research institutions and regional government bodies. Knowledge as a source of growth has often been taken for granted, but there is also the question of dissemination and encouraging entrepreneurship.”
The RESGen work plan comprised six work packages, with the creation of a Joint Action Plan being the ultimate goal. The communication and dissemination of innovative ideas was a concept which ran throughout the entire project.
The project has been a learning curve. “Certain things could have been done better,” says Mr Johnson – for example, the so-called triple helix dialogue could have been more structured – “but overall, the project succeeded in getting energy innovation on to the agenda in the regions.”
As a result, the RESGen project contributed to new thinking in the regions involved, and encouraged the partners to approach challenges differently. The benchmarking which led to the development of the roadmaps provided a useful tool for the regions, and helped to create dialogue within different European organisations. “Based on the work carried out in the project, our region, Ostrobothnia, was able to contribute to the European debate and lead active discussions within the Smart Specialisation platform,” acknowledges Mr Johnson. This platform was established by the Commission to provide professional advice to regions on their innovation strategies.
The end result of the project is the Joint Action Plan which, Mr Johnson says, has helped to strengthen co-operation between the partners. It has enabled them to identify different topics for future collaboration, and helped match businesses to initiatives, even though this was not one of the original aims of the project.
“The results of RESGen have also played a role in informing the political debate, through networks such as the European regions research and innovation network (ERRIN) and the conference of peripheral maritime regions (CPMR),” he continues. “They have had an impact on regional debates contributing to strategy building in the partner regions. On the academic side, RESGen, together with two other Regions of Knowledge projects – BioClus and BioMob – were involved in the 19th Conference of Biomass and Regional Development, which was held in Berlin, Germany in June 2011.”
The legacy of this project is likely to be long-lasting. By preparing regions for sustainable energy management, RESGen will have contributed towards reaching the EU’s CO2 emissions goals. Importantly, the uptake of new energy-generation technologies will also bring environmental and economic benefits to the regions themselves. “Ultimately, this project has effectively contributed to greater strategic thinking in the regions when it comes to energy,” concludes Mr Johnson.