Cash for long term research back again
Wind energy's unexpected inclusion in the latest invitation for bids for European long term research money comes as a "pleasant surprise," says the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). The European Commission's decision to include wind in its last call for proposals under the current four-year research and development funding round appears to be a response to intense lobbying by the industry to halt the decline in support for wind R&D.
Money for long term wind research has been absent from the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), which runs from 2003-2006, as the Commission claimed that wind energy is a "mature technology." Concerted efforts earlier this year from players across the sector have apparently persuaded the EU executive to reinstate at least one call for a large wind project under FP6. Industry, financiers, insurers and the R&D community represented in Europe's Wind Energy R&D Network produced a strategy arguing for more long term research funding for wind power.
The Commission's call for proposals -- in the area of sustainable development and sustainable energy with a budget of EUR 190 million -- was announced in September. In the wind sector it is looking for one large "integrated project" to develop a future generation of wind turbine using innovative materials, designs and modelling. The project, which will receive up to EUR 15 million of EU cash, must involve actors from the fields of research and business, including "small and medium size enterprises." The objective of the project is to improve wind turbine components, aiming at lightweight, reliable machines with less environmental impact.
The call also invites proposals for two further wind projects; one in the Specific Targeted Research Project (STREP) and a Concerted Action (CA) project. The aim of the STREP proposal is to develop a large wind turbine of more than 5 MW -- particularly for offshore wind farms -- that is not simply an upscaled version of an existing model. The CA aims to improve output forecasting from offshore wind and wave installations. The Commission is looking for proposals by December 8. "We see this call as the Commission responding in a positive way to concern raised by this industry," comments EWEA's Christian Kjær.
More money still
The signs are looking even more promising for wind under the Seventh Framework Program (FP7). Industry and political pressure is building to increase R&D money for renewables, particularly offshore wind energy. Hopes are that at the end of this month government ministers on the EU European Energy and Telecom Council will request the Commission to consider allocating more research money to wind. In July an informal Competitiveness Council also suggested the establishment of a technology platform for wind power.
Technology platforms are a new instrument under FP7 aiming to bring together companies, research bodies, the financial community and regulators to define a common research agenda which will mobilise public and private funds. Twenty-two technology platforms are proposed so far in the fields of energy, transport, agriculture, science, medicine and industry.
Like its predecessor, FP7 aims for more co-ordination of European research between laboratories and national programs, avoiding duplication of effort and attracting the best research brains. Its overall objective is for Europe to compete successfully internationally, particularly with the United States.
The budget for FP7 is likely to be much larger than previous programs. The Commission hopes to double it to an average EUR 10 billion a year for the duration of the program. Up for grabs are a range of topics that FP7 has yet to announce, although there is no doubt that sustainable energy will be among them. Of some concern is that the Commission has already proposed two new topics for inclusion: space and security. Space research could swallow huge amounts of money, but wind industry players see hydrogen research as the biggest competitor to wind for funds. "Under FP6, hydrogen has already taken a lot of funding away from our area," says Kjær. "There needs to be transparency under the new budget breakdown. It should be clear how much money goes to hydrogen and how much to renewables." EWEA has strongly argued that until renewable energy is fully developed for the provision of electricity, there will be no excess power for producing hydrogen. If hydrogen is not derived from renewable energy, its use will increase pollution, not decrease it, and be expensive into the bargain.
Commission is to begin work on the budget for FP7 in early 2005. Even if wind is not allowed technology platform status, EWEA believes the Commission has taken on board the industry's arguments for increased money for long term wind research. "The mere fact that the Commission decided to reinstate long term funding for wind under FP6 is a good indicator," says Kjær. "But if the industry does not come up with good proposals for the call in December it will be more challenging for us to ask the Commission for continued long term research funds under the seventh framework program."