Europe: Call for low-carbon technology funds

EUR50 billion research plan.

The European Commission has called on the public and private sectors to raise a total of around EUR50 billion over the next ten years to aid the EU's development of low-carbon energy technologies.

Around EUR6 billion, or 12% of the proposed research budget, would be spent on boosting wind energy, while the still unproven carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology would receive EUR13 billion, or just over 25% (see table). The bulk of the funds needed "will have to come from the private sector and from member states, with a contribution from the EU budget".

Christian Kjaer, chief executive officer of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) acknowledges that the sum invested in wind is "small compared to the amount given to coal carbon capture and storage" but welcomes the significant rise to 12% from the 1% of EU energy research funds historically allocated to wind until 2002. "The EUR6 billion proposed for wind energy research represents unbeatable value for money," he says. "No other technology offers such a big return in electricity generation and greenhouse gas reduction for such a small investment."

The call is part of the commission's European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (Set-Plan), which supports renewables, energy efficiency and upgrading the EU's energy system to integrate technologies in a smart grid network - it has allocated EUR2 billion for grid research. The money for wind would be spent on accelerating the reduction of costs, increasingly moving to offshore and resolving the associated grid integration issues.

Creating a picture

The commission says that the EU needs to develop a better picture of wind resources in Europe through coordinated measurement campaigns: build five to ten testing facilities for new wind turbine components; construct up to ten demonstration projects of next generation turbines; build at least five prototypes of new offshore substructures tested in different environments; demonstrate new manufacturing processes; and test the viability of new logistics strategies and installation techniques in remote and often hostile weather environments.

"All this must be underpinned by a comprehensive research programme to improve the conversion efficiency of wind turbines," it says. The commission expects this to result in power generation of up to 20% of EU electricity by 2020 and 33% by 2030, as well as creating around 250,000 jobs.

But for wind and other renewables to be successful, "electricity networks must be fit for the 21st century", the EU executive body adds. It recommends that money be spent creating a strongly integrated research and demonstration programme so that by 2020, 50% of European networks would enable the seamless integration of renewables that operate on "smart principles" and match supply and demand.

Inconsistency challenge

Environmental group Greenpeace has, however, criticised the EU executive body for a lack of consistency and for continuing to offer subsidies for "outdated nuclear and coal-based technologies that are designed to operate in centralised and inflexible power grids".

Frauke Thies, Greenpeace's EU energy policy campaigner said it was time for the EU to choose the type of energy system it wants in the future and "stop playing the field". Efforts to develop wind power in the EU are already being hampered, he says, because of the conflict between a centralised and inflexible energy system, which relies on nuclear and coal - and renewables.

He cites the example of northern Germany where wind power is being cut off the grid during times of low power demand, because nuclear and coal plants are unable to adjust their output. "The situation will only worsen unless the right policies are implemented across Europe," he says.

Electricity production change 2010-2020
Power Funding Share of Forecast change
technology (EUR billion) funding (%) in production (mtoe)
Wind 6 12 10.9
Nuclear 7 14 -23.8
Solar 16 31 4.1
Biomass 9 18 27.3
CCS 13 25 n/a
Source: European Commission.