Biggest concerted research effort yet
The European wind industry will unveil detailed proposals for future research priorities under the EU's proposed strategic energy technology (SET) plan at its annual conference in Brussels in April. The SET plan aims for better co-ordinated research into clean energy technologies. A strengthened and more coherent research effort across Europe will accelerate deployment of renewables and other low carbon technologies, the EU Commission hopes. This will help the EU meet its 2020 targets for renewable energy, energy efficiency and carbon emissions reductions, as well as put Europe on a path to meeting its ambitious vision of reducing greenhouse gases by 60-80% by 2050.
The Commission also aims to help Europe compete against the US, Japan and China, which are all ploughing substantial sums and effort into clean energy research. "If we fall behind in the intensifying global race to win low carbon technology markets, we risk meeting our targets with imported technologies," says energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs.
Europe's renewables research budgets have steadily declined since the high point for energy development funding in the 1980s following the oil-price shocks of the 1970s. If European governments were investing today at the same rate as in 1980, public expenditure in energy technologies would be four times the current figure of around EUR 2.5 billion, says the Commission.
Its plans, however, do not mean any more money for energy research. Rather, the Commission will make better use of existing funding -- such as that available under the EU's seventh framework research program -- and target the areas most likely to deliver results, says Piebalgs. He has stated he would like to see more money channelled into energy research.
The SET plan moves towards common research and development programming between research centres in different member states under the European Research Area (ERA) and Networks of Excellence instruments. It will also tap into the European Technology Platforms -- including one for wind (TP Wind), which bring together stakeholders to define research priorities and deployment strategies. TP Wind, which was set up in 2007, is one of the newer platforms.
Starting this year, the Commission proposes to launch six priority initiatives under SET covering wind, solar, biofuel, carbon capture and storage, the electricity grid, and nuclear fission. But some environmental lobbyists are already criticising the plan's priorities, arguing it should have focused solely on renewables, energy efficiency and clean energy solutions instead of fossil fuels and nuclear. Member of the European parliament for the Green party, Claude Turmes, accuses the Commission of presenting "an all and nothing" approach. "By trying to please a variety of energy lobbies, the plan will inevitably fall short of providing a real incentive for any," he says.
The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) adds that the plan should reverse past imbalances in national and EU research funding, which have seen the bulk of money channelled into nuclear. It points out that according to the International Energy Agency, wind has received less than 1% of government research expenditure since 1974, while nuclear received 60% -- some $175 billion.
For wind, the Commission states that the key challenge under the plan is to "double the power generation capacity of the largest wind turbines, with offshore wind as the lead application." EWEA, however, is pushing for a broader focus for the wind initiative. Wind turbine size should not be a goal in itself, it argues. More important are measures to boost performance and reliability and bring down costs.
EWEA's Nicolas Fichaux points out that the overall objective of the wind technology platform is cost reduction. TP Wind, like all the platforms, will feed into the SET plan. It comprises expert groups covering six topics: wind energy resource, wind turbine cost reductions, grid integration, offshore deployment and operations, economics and market instruments, and policy and environmental measures.
Bottom up approach
The six groups are currently working to define the agenda for the wind initiative. This will contain elements from all the topics, stresses Fichaux. In addition, a finance working group will be looking at designing an instrument for gathering public and private investment to fund the wind platform's recommendations, he says.
TP Wind represents a huge industry effort, Fichaux maintains. The secretariat is financed by EU funding, but the cost of the groups' work is borne by industry players, he points out. "On research, the wind industry has never had such a concerted effort," he says. "Before, the Commission and member states were each designing separate research programs. What is really different now is that this is a bottom up approach, with a network of stakeholders and experts who provide advice to enable the Commission to build a research program."
This month a general assembly of TP Wind in Brussels will produce its detailed proposals for a research agenda and market deployment strategy for the wind initiative. This will be presented to the rest of the industry and the Commission at the European Wind Energy Conference in early April.
The industry strategy will be far wider in scope than the Commission's proposal, says Fichaux. "We will not be focusing on doubling the size of wind turbines -- this is not an objective for this sector." He believes the Commission focused on size because it believed that progress would be easier to monitor and produce visible results.
Important among the priorities defined by TP Wind will be improved wind turbine reliability, better accessibility to make maintenance easier and less cost, and improved generation efficiency, he says. "This is related to the topics of TP Wind, which is focused on cost reduction. We would have liked to see this concern reflected in the SET plan proposal."