12 Feb 2015   |   News

The EU Energy Challenge: Can innovation fill the gap?

Summit gathered experts from academia, industry and policy to debate new energy technologies and accelerating the shift to a low-carbon economy

The European Union aims to the lead the world in developing a sustainable, secure and affordable energy system. The speed and cost of the transition create a daunting policy challenge from rising electricity bills to replacing a vast array of infrastructure. Innovation and technology will play a crucial role addressing the challenges—but which technologies, who will deliver them and what policies are needed to transform existing markets and institutions?

On 14 November 2014, Science|Business organised a summit on the EU Energy Challenge, gathering 170 experts from across Europe and beyond in academia, industry and policy to debate the answers to those questions and develop insights and recommendations for the European Commission. The summit capped a series of eight high-level academic policy symposia focused on the EU energy R&D challenge, supported by BP.

It convened energy leaders just two days after the 12 November 2014 agreement between China and the US on capping greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, bolstering the chances of a global agreement on climate and energy goals at the united nations Climate Change  Conference (COP 21) in Paris in December 2015.

Key insights from the day-long debate focused on making Europe’s “energy union” a reality, building effective public private partnerships, reforming the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) to achieve an effective market price for carbon, and developing stress tests for EC energy innovation policies. Experts also called for “lighthouse” projects that concentrate funding where breakthroughs are needed, greater global collaboration on energy technology challenges, and faster development of smarter grids interconnected across eu borders to take full advantage of the growing availability of renewable power generation.

To accelerate the development of low-carbon technologies, the EU must not only fund research and innovation, but tackle obstacles to the creation of new markets. Carbon capture and sequestration must move from test-bed technology to industrial application, speakers said, not just for the EU’s fossil fuel-fired power generators but for the wider manufacturing industry. To accelerate the development of commercially viable second-generation biofuels, Europe needs a clear legislative framework and a more integrated approach to biofuel production, participants concluded.

In low-carbon transport, the past decade of R&D has produced a portfolio of green-car technologies, from hybrids and electric vehicles to cars that run on hydrogen, biofuels, natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas. But to generate mass-market take-up, the EU must now create the missing infrastructure for alternative fuels. It must also make sure new fuels are decarbonised. To better integrate solar and wind power in the grid, the EU must think about the system as a whole. It must embrace modelling, think about heat, transport and electricity together, and explore the role of natural gas, energy storage and demand-side measures in the transition to a system where the bulk of the generating capacity is intermittent renewables.

When it comes to resource efficiency, governments need to become more adept at wielding demand-side policies and acknowledge the pivotal role of consumers in achieving Europe’s energy transformation. “We tend to focus on technology but we have to focus on (its) users,” said Sir Mark Walport, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser. “We have to provide consumers with the rewards they want.”

Europe needs to learn both from its own experience and from that of others, including the US and Asia. It needs to better coordinate its energy policies, setting clear objectives and weighing the impact of the energy transition on economic competitiveness and security. It should embrace breakthrough technologies and business models, particularly in the areas of super grids that can transform the future electricity system, energy storage, advanced biofuels, and electric cars. Finally, the European Commission needs to ensure that its energy union delivers benefits and avoids over-prescription, and recognise that the energy transition is not only about science, but also values. 

 

The full report can be downloaded here.

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