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EU gets tough on climate change, intensifies energy investment

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Growing concerns on climate change, energy supply and competitiveness weigh heavily on the minds of Europeans. The European Commission is determined to fight this escalating problem and has called on public officials, industry and researchers to pool their resources and develop key technologies that would address this nagging issue. The target date is 2020.

On 7 October, the Commission presented the plan 'Investing in the development of low-carbon energy technologies', targeting the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by capturing and burying emissions from coal power stations (carbon capture and storage, or CCS).

In its proposal, the Commission estimates that another whopping EUR 50 billion should be earmarked for energy technology research over the next decade. The EU will have to dig deep and shell out another EUR 5 billion on top of the EUR 3 billion that is already invested each year.

'Upgrading investment in research in clean technologies is urgent if Europe is to make the road to Copenhagen and beyond cheaper,' stressed Janez Potocnik, the EU Commissioner for Science and Research.

The Commission believes that the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan), which is the technology pillar of the EU's energy and climate policy, should be the catalyst for securing a low carbon economy. Solid and consistent collaboration between public and private actors is key, Commissioner Potocnik commented.

'Increasing smart investments in research today is an opportunity to develop new sources of growth, to green our economy and to ensure the EU's competitiveness when we come out of the crisis.'

In cooperation with researchers and industry officials, the Commission drafted technology roadmaps identifying low carbon technologies with strong potential at EU level in six areas: wind, solar, electricity grids, bioenergy, CCS and sustainable nuclear fission.

The selection was based on a consultation process involving the SET-Plan information system (SETIS), which offers up-to-the-minute research results on the status, forecasts and research and development (R&D) investment figures for low-carbon technologies.

SETIS evaluates and monitors the noted technologies that will fuel Europe's drive to meet its energy and climate change targets.

'SETIS has been designed as a unique, accessible one-stop-shop for validated, up-to-date information about low-carbon energy technologies,' Commissioner Potocnik said. 'Its aim is to disseminate robust data and transparent methodologies widely, in support to the EU blueprint for research on energy technologies, the SET-Plan.'

Under the plan, the areas that get the biggest pieces of the investment pie are solar with EUR 16 billion, and the CCS of greenhouse gas emissions with EUR 13 billion. Ultimately, the Commission wants to make the technology available for power stations that go online after 2020.

'Previous industrial revolutions have proved that the right technologies can transform for the better the way we live,' said Andris Piebalgs, the Commissioner for Energy. 'Today we have a unique opportunity to change an energy model based on polluting, scarce and risky fossil fuels, into a clean, sustainable and less dependent one. All depends on choosing the right technologies.'

Is the move to a low-carbon economy the right direction for the EU? The Commission believes so because fossil fuels are the crux of the problem.

The EU's primary energy supply is 80% dependent on fossil fuels - the majority of which are imported from abroad - that are becoming both scarcer and more expensive. The move would also result in economic growth and the creation of jobs. By fuelling and sustaining a low-carbon economy, Europe could cut its foreign energy bill and rise to the top of the economic sector of clean and efficient technologies.

SETIS (SET-Plan Information System) - briefing

Source: Community R&D Information Service (CORDIS)

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