BEHIND THE HEADLINES

Under the EU's Fourth Framework Programme, the Thermie programme for dissemination of energy technology advances has been drastically curtailed, though funding for renewables in general has increased. The industry must lobby for a continuation of Thermie funding in a special category. The potential positive result of Thermie's transferral from under the Commission's energy wing to under R&D is that future Thermie and Joule programmes could be better co-ordinated.

Aggressive lobbying needed now

s is often the case with budgets, it is the fine tweaking of the sub clauses in the European Union's Fourth Framework Programme for R&D which are more revealing than the broad funding allocations. Renewables have done well, securing fully 45% of the (increased) non nuclear budget for 1995-1998. But a closer look at the division of the total cake gives cause for speculation about the reasons for handing huge slices to some sectors and only crumbs to others.

The non nuclear budget is split between research on the one hand and demonstration on the other, funded under the Joule and Thermie programmes, respectively. Joule gets 45% of the whole cake and Thermie 55%. But it is an irony of the fine print that Thermie's spending on renewables has actually been cut by some ECU 200 million -- money which appears to have been stuffed into Joule's pot instead (see main story).

The non nuclear budget's broad emphasis on demonstration is reflected in the budget allocations for rational use of energy and solid fuel and hydrocarbons (see chart). But it is not continued in the renewables sector. Here the scales are balanced in the opposite direction. Joule gets a far bigger slice than Thermie -- 28% of the cake going to research compared with 17% going to demonstration. The immediate conclusion that leaps to mind is that wind technology has reached the stage where demonstration of it is no longer necessary. Following that line of argument, allocation of just 5% of the budget to researching cleaner ways of using fossil fuel and 23% to demonstrating its cleanliness (see chart) would suggest that Commission officials believe coal is clean enough without further research. Or are renewables just a step ahead (or behind) solid fuels on the continuing cycle of discovery?

Unfortunately, the explanation for the uneven balance of funding is a deal more complicated. Until the Fourth Framework Programme, one of the main role's of the Thermie programme was dissemination of technology advances. The idea was that Thermie should help new technology into the market place by shouldering much of the inherent risk associated with investment in it. This dissemination role has disappeared, now that Thermie has been brought in under the EU's R&D umbrella.

For wind energy in particular this is bad news. The technology has reached a stage where dissemination of it far and wide would do more to opening up a market than almost anything else. Experience has proved that familiarity with wind power plants breeds respect -- and a desire to see more of them. More often than not it is fear of the unknown which has been wind's biggest barrier. The importance of replicating successful technologies in new geographical regions has not gone unnoticed in the corridors of EU policy making. All three EU institutions -- the Commission, the Council and the Parliament -- recognise that the demise of Thermie's dissemination activities will leave a serious hole in Europe's energy programme. The Parliament in particular, aided and abetted by the Commission, is fighting hard for an extra ECU 200 million allocation for Thermie -- from the energy rather than the R&D budget. But the energy ministers of Germany, France and the UK refuse to countenance such special treatment for Thermie -- blocking all efforts to allow dissemination to continue. The EU's energy council meets at the end of this month. The wind community needs to apply as much pressure as it can muster to supporting the Parliament's proposal for a Thermie sub programme. Only in this way will there be support for installing wind plants in areas where the message about renewables has yet to strike home.

In the meantime, wind proponents should not shrug their shoulders at the demise of the clean coal research budget. This would be a shortsighted approach. Renewables are only one element of a cleaner energy future and their funding should not be at the expense of making dirty power plant cleaner. More cynically, if clean coal research is seen to lose out to renewables, then renewable energy would become an easy target for attack by the fossil fuel sector.

Perhaps, though, the decision to allocate more renewables funding to research than demonstration is a direct result of the criticism levelled at Thermie's support of wind during 1990-1994. Serious concern has been expressed about choosing to inject cash into "demonstration" projects where the technology is already known. There has also been a deal of criticism about the lack of co-ordination between Thermie and its sister programme for research, Joule. Ideally, Thermie's role should be to take over where Joule leaves off -- by pushing good ideas brought to fruition in the research programme into the market place. But all too often in the past Thermie selections seem to have had little reference to Joule projects.

This could be one of the reasons for the high failure rate of Thermie wind projects. Of 180 projects so far evaluated, 46% have failed, been abandoned, or never been started; 3% have met with partial success and only 11% have been declared a success, according to Alex Kotronaros of the Directorate General for Energy, which administers the Thermie programme. The remaining projects are classified as ongoing. Although much of the blame for this high failure rate has been put on local stumbling blocks, which either prevent projects going in the ground or make it difficult for companies to raise their share of the necessary capital, there is no doubt that some project selections were ill advised in the first place.

Things could now improve. Because the Fourth Framework Programme brings Thermie firmly in under the protection of the European Union's research umbrella instead of under energy, closer links with Joule seem far more likely. It could now be expected that Thermie project selections will be made after close examination of ongoing Joule projects. In this way, Thermie could serve a useful purpose as Joule's watchdog -- a role DG XVII's Enzo Millich would no doubt enjoy exercising over his counterpart at DG XII, Wolfgang Palz.

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