Billions of euros could soon flow to scientists researching nextgeneration "green" technologies in Europe as the region moves to boost energy funding in an effort to catch up-and even possibly surpass- innovation front-runners Japan and the United States.
The European Union has long been concerned with the steady decline in investments in energy research, down sharply from spending in the 1980s when Europe faced a major oil crisis. To reverse this trend, the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, has drafted a financing plan that would triple the annual investment in energy research to 8 billion ($11.8 billion) from the current 3 billion, providing additional funding of 50 billion over the next 10 years.
The Commission foresees the private and public sectors splitting the additional funds. The EU, in particular, would fund much of the long-term fundamental research where risks and costs are high through a range of measures, such as redirecting funds from some large Community-financed projects and tapping unused funds in others.
Policy-makers in Brussels view the transition to a low-carbon economy as essential not only to combat climate change and guarantee the supply of affordable energy but, equally important, to ensure sustainable economic growth. The nascent green technology sector promises hundreds of thousands of new jobs and contracts in research, manufacturing and business.
The move represents a huge step forward in implementing the European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan), a cornerstone of the EU's energy and climate policy. Among the program's key goals: to have 20% of the region's overall energy consumption coming from renewable energy sources by 2020 and to cut greenhouse gases 80% by 2050.
In a statement outlining its green energy research investment plan, the Commission speaks of the need to stimulate its "best brains to push back the frontiers of science in materials, in chemistry and physics, in nanotechnology and biotechnology and to find new and better ways of producing and consuming energy." The financing plan, originally due last year, was delayed partly because of the economic crisis, which required new thinking, and partly because of the additional time required to develop the technology roadmaps. Expected to be adopted later this year, it gives renewable energies, such as wind, solar and biomass, a top priority but also seeks innovation in areas such as carbon capture and storage (CSS), fusion energy, fuel cells, and a "new generation" of nuclear reactors.
Euros for Solar, Wind
Under the plan, solar power will receive 16 billion for developing new photovoltaic concepts and large industrial concentrating solar power (CSP) systems, contributing to 15% of EU's electricity in 10 year's time. Wind energy will receive 6 billion, which the Commission believes could produce a fifth of the region's electricity by 2020. The money would help fund the development of next-generation wind turbines and other systems for deployments offshore, where winds are stronger. Money would also be available for building between 5 and10 new testing facilities for new wind turbine components and up to 10 demonstration projects for next-generation turbines.
Additionally, the plan earmarks 9 billion for bioenergy, which could account for 14% of the EU's energy. Another 2 billion would go to the development of smart grid systems to help integrate renewable energy sources.
11 Billion for "Smart Cities"
In addition to renewables, CCS is set to receive 13 billion for up to 12 trial projects and nuclear research 7 billion. The plan also foresees 11 billion for the "Smart Cities" program. Under this initiative, between 25 and 30 cities would serve as examples for smart networks, a new generation of buildings and alternative transportation means. The goal is for low-carbon houses and transportation systems to emit 40% less greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 than they did in 1990, championing efficient, renewable energy usage. …