LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Taylor on Nick Mabey's "A low carbon strategy for Europe"
A low-carbon energy revolution in Europe is on the horizon, thanks to the 2020 energy and climate targets.
Nick Mabey identifies many of the things Europe must do to create a low-carbon economy, but he pays little attention to the role that technological development and innovation can play in bringing the right changes at the lowest cost.
A low-carbon energy revolution in Europe is on the horizon, thanks largely to the 2020 energy and climate targets. However, many of the technologies that hold longer-term promise are still more expensive than those widely used at present. Photovoltaic (PV) and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), second generation biofuels, offshore wind, carbon capture and storage, smart grids, electric vehicles, hydrogen and fuel cells can all play an important role in Europe’s energy future. But Europe badly needs an integrated policy framework that looks at research, development and demonstration (RD&D) at EU and national level. This should aim to bring down the costs of new technologies and improve their performance. Of course, the investment in energy infrastructure identified by Mabey is also needed.
The EU’s Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan can encourage innovation but only if funding for low-carbon RD&D is dramatically scaled up. The European Commission estimates that an extra €50bn must be spent on research in energy technology over the next 10 years. This means that in the EU investment must be tripled each year, from €3bn to €8bn. In line with this, research at the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that public funding for non-nuclear RD&D must be increased by three to six times globally. Concrete European funding on this scale has yet to be secured.
Simply throwing money at RD&D projects won't guarantee success. The EU needs to pick up the pace of innovation by aiming for best practices in the design and implementation of energy RD&D programmes. Programmes must be aligned with national and European policy priorities, and all results must be rigorously evaluated. If changes need to be made in terms of the technologies that need support, they must be made. Strengthening the links between the public and private sectors and between basic science and applied energy research communities will speed up the process. And greater international collaboration with partners outside Europe can help share costs and benefits.
Europe can hold on to its position as a world leader in cutting edge low-carbon solutions. But to do so it must look beyond the 2020 targets. Investing in the next generation of advanced technologies will put Europe on track to meet its own long-term climate goals.