The European Commission has set up a new service to help Europe’s regions make better use of regional funding for promoting sustainable energy.
The ‘Smart Specialisation Platform on Energy’ will be hosted by the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) in Seville, one of seven labs in the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. Academics will run the platform, advising on regional spending plans and organising workshops where regional and local representatives can get hands-on training.
“If I had to put my hand in the fire and say there was one fundamental contribution we [can] make, it’s [to provide] a point where regions can find out what they and others are doing,” said John Bensted Smith, director of IPTS.
Investment in low-carbon tech is a priority under the new 2014 - 2020 regional development budget, which has €100 billion for innovation. The other major budget headings are research and innovation, information and communications technology, and spending on programmes that benefit small businesses.The Commission said the new energy platform will “better align innovation activities in the field of energy at national, regional and local level with a view to setting up a joint strategic agenda on energy priorities.”
Graeme Dickson, the Scottish government’s director-general for enterprise, environment and innovation, welcomed the effort. “If Europe is to take the lead in something like carbon capture and storage, it’s going to require some fairly massive support to get it off the ground,” he said.
Leading unlike horses to water
Funding from Brussels is always attractive but making sure it is put to good use is an ongoing struggle for poorer regional governments which currently lack the skills and experience to design the type of innovation strategies that are demanded by new EU regional project criteria.
A recent study by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute characterised the change in mentality and routine demanded by the new policy regime as “leading unlike horses to the water”.
Not every region is starting from the same position, Regional Commissioner Corina Creţu acknowledged. “[Regional] funding offers many opportunities, but it also poses important challenges for the regions in terms of implementing EU co-funded energy projects. That is why I welcome the new platform on energy which will pool joint know-how on sustainable energy and will help regions in making efficient use of the funding available.”
In an attempt to improve the performance of regions, the EU has re-engineered the requirements for regional funding for 2014 – 2020. For the first time regions will be required to present “smart specialisation strategies” that detail how they intend to make the best use of available resources to achieve some form of competitive advantage.