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SET Plan Conference 2018: Europe needs to invest more in clean energy R&I. The risk is low and the return is high.

This was originally an Input statement by Dr. Nils A. Røkke, Chair EERA at the Opening Session – SET Plan Conference 2018, 20. November 2018 in Vienna

I am asked to give the view from the energy research and innovation community and answer how we can address the challenges ahead in achieving the 2030 and 2050 energy and climate targets of Europe.

I address this with a positive mind. A bright future is ahead of us. It is a bright future because we have to grasp the opportunity in front of us: a low carbon society- so low that it must be net zero by mid century. This will give a better world, not the opposite. The present path is the path which will put us in jeopardy and cost so much more to rectify – if possible at all.

I am Chair of the European Energy Research Alliance – EERA. We have 250 partner institutes and universities in 30 countries, which employ over 50,000 people engaged in energy research. This Pan-European research network is an integral piece in bringing forward the energy and climate transition to Europe and the world.

EERA, the world’s largest low carbon energy research and innovation community, came out of the SET-Plan and is a structure which will be a valuable asset whatever strategy Europe adopts to meet the Paris Agreement.

The Mission Innovation initiative, where the EU is a partner, works to double public research and innovation funding within clean energy within it’s partnership from roughly 1.8 to 3.6% by 2021. This is a highly commendable step, but we have a significant funding gap which we need to fill if we are going to keep our word towards the Paris Agreement.

Europe needs to invest more in clean energy and climate research and innovation. The risk is low and the return is high.

Single digit research and innovation investments in clean energy is not sufficient for us to reach the Paris Agreement or the 55% emission reduction resolution by 2030 (by the EP) or a climate neutral target by 2050.

We have to change course or else we will end up where we are heading.

What kind of R&I do we need now to be on track for 2030, and what for 2050?

Europe needs a reinforced R&I agenda for low carbon energy technologies and systems

We have to decarbonise the electricity sector (whereof 30% is renewable), the industrial sector and processes, transportation (mobility), heating and cooling and the agricultural sector. It will be far too comprehensive to mention all the energy technologies, KET and system integration needs for these sectors in these 6 minutes so let me instead point to some urgent needs:

  • We need a concerted action in the hydrogen field to catch up with other economies and capitalize on the excellent R&D environments in Europe today. Hydrogen can be sustainably produced from renewables and from natural gas using Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). It is also a fuel which can be used across so many sectors: power, industry, transport- land, rail, heavy duty trucks, marine applications, heating and cooling, cooking, intermediate storage of energy in a system dominated by intermittent power… I could go on, it can provide societal services in the road towards 2030 and -50. And maybe not as hydrogen- ammonia and liquid organic hydrogen carriers can provide good transport solutions. To cut it short- we need versatile carbon free fuels.
  • Offshore deep wind has capacity factors far exceeding average or peak onshore wind turbines. We need to harvest the clean energy in the North Sea, the energy Silicon Valley of Europe. Let’s boost this effort which will give new opportunities for businesses and value creation, the window of opportunity is wide open. We also need storage technologies ranging from batteries to hydrogen, increased interconnections and smart grids to ensure net zero difference between produced and consumed and stored electricity within a tight frequency band.
  • There will be a huge need for carbon negative emissions. Examples are BioCCS and other ways of providing net storage of CO2 from the atmosphere. Infrastructure for transport and storage of CO2 will be much needed – fast. Beware that storage is a prerequisite for these technologies to be effective.
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What instruments do we need to support this R&I?

We need European Centres of Excellence for R&I within energy – pooling resources

The opportunities ahead are far too big for one country or economy to cover. We need to encourage Pan-European initiatives by providing glue money and top-up funding to create European Centres of Excellence. This is very effective use of common funding as we have seen in our joint programmes with leverage factor of 10-100 being achieved.

Why don’t we, as an example, pool the R&I resources in an European Centre of Excellence for Batteries R&I – operating as a distributed Centre of Excellence with partner centres from the Czech republic, Sweden, France, Germany, Spain…? This would accelerate learning and innovation actions by connecting to European vehicles for that (like Kic’s) and a one stop shop for Battery R&D.

We must continue to pursue and encourage the industrial involvement in our activities.

We need to continue to cooperate within Europe and along the TRL scale. We must continue to pursue and encourage the industrial involvement in our activities. The Horizon Europe programme should be even more industrial friendly than H2020 and we need seamless connection between the parts of HEU and the other programmes/initiatives.

There must be a pipeline for good ideas to travel from the conception of an idea to deployment in society. Clearly public money can and should only cover parts of this activity but R&I, Infrastructure, Innovation fund, Regional funds, Innofin, EIB etc – should all be linked and closer connected.

Europe needs to secure its own assets to ensure return on investment and a healthy supply of new impetus for a thriving economy. We need to keep excellent researchers and innovators in Europe and Europe to be an attractive playground for high potential people, start-ups and companies.

So – summarizing the points I have shared with you:

  1. Europe needs to invest more in clean energy research and innovation. The risk is low and the return is high.
  2. Europe needs a more forceful research and innovation agenda for clean energy technologies.
  3. We need European Centres of Excellence for energy R&I and accelerated learning, this is the Berlin model at work.
  4. We must continue to pursue and encourage the industrial involvement in this transition.
  5. Continue to stay optimistic. That is what will guide our way. With that I thank you for your attention

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