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Wind not a priority in new program -- European research funding

Wind energy lags behind less mature renewable technologies in the European Commission's priorities for renewables research funding under the EU's latest four year program. In the Sixth Framework Program (FP6), which runs from January 2003, the main focus will be on photovoltaics and biofuels, Wiktor Raldow, from the EU Commission's Directorate-General for Research (DG RTD), told a Brussels conference in late November. Wind is included among "other areas" along with geo-thermal, ocean, and solar thermal.

Despite the wind industry's new found maturity, with much of the needed research and development (R&D) carried on behind the closed doors of commercial confidentiality, that does not mean that R&D funding is no longer needed, says Søren Krohn of the European Wind Energy Association. "I think there is a general misunderstanding in the Commission that wind energy is a fully developed technology and that there is nothing more to be done." Wind's budget is not big enough, he adds. "We have been unreasonably treated."

FP6 is the EU's biggest research program to date, worth EUR 17.5 billion -- a 17% increase over FP5. Funding for renewables comes under the heading of Sustainable Energy Systems, which also includes energy efficiency, alternative motor fuels, hydrogen and carbon dioxide capture. Sustainable energy systems have been allocated EUR 810 million over the four years of the program, said Raldow. This budget is split equally between short and medium term actions which are overseen by DG Tren (Transport and Energy) and medium and long term actions coming under DG RTD.

Raldow announced at the conference, Doing Business in the Renewable Energy Market & the Transition to a more Decentralised Power System, that the program's first call for proposals opened on December 17, 2002, and will allocate some EUR 280 million. The call closes on March 18. The conference was organised by Eurelectric, the association of the European electricity industry.

The aims and structure of FP6 are different from previous research programs. The emphasis is on integrating research across Europe to avoid duplicating efforts of national research institutions. It also aims to foster excellence and strengthen the global competitiveness of European research. Applications will come from multi-national partnerships and must involve a minimum of three countries.

New categories

Most projects will be funded under two new categories -- integrated projects (IP) and networks of excellence (NoE). Integrated projects are large scale, aiming to boost competitiveness of European research or address society's needs. Networks of excellence aim to link a critical mass of resources and expertise to be a long term world force in a particular research topic. The level of grant is based on the number of researchers working on the topic. Wind energy falls into both categories, with research on multi-megawatt size turbines and their components funded under IP, while NoE will include research into issues concerned with wind energy at unconventional sites.

"As well as IP and NoE, we will also be able to support some conventional projects along the lines of the fifth framework program," said Raldow. The first call will include a lot of biomass and PV. Among other renewables: "A certain degree of emphasis is placed on wind -- probably primarily for offshore applications, large innovative machines and new improved concepts."

Results from an early call for expressions of interest (EOI) for funding reveal a wide level of misunderstanding of the new funding instruments -- IP and NoE. Less than 20% of responses were within the scope of the invitation. The European Commission initiated the EOI invitation to help it define its first call for proposals -- but also to familiarise the research community with the requirements of FP6.

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