Analysis - Europe boosts R&D to maintain dominance

EUROPE: Europe is in danger of losing its lead on wind technology and must act now to safeguard it, says Ditlev Engel, president and CEO of Danish manufacturer Vestas. He was speaking as the European Commission (EC) launched its economic strategy for the next ten years with promises of a significant rise in the amount of money available for research and development (R&D) of low-carbon technologies.

Warning: Vestas CEO Ditlev Engel
Warning: Vestas CEO Ditlev Engel

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At a Green Party conference in the European Parliament in Brussels, Engel said the EU was a frontrunner in terms of renewables, particularly wind technology, but warned this was no longer "a given thing", with the US or China threatening to overtake it.

He said Europe needed to focus on three priorities if it wanted to remain the leading developer of wind technology: first, training people for jobs that may not yet have been invented; second, agreeing a reduction target for greenhouse gas emissions of 30% by 2020; and third, implementing renewable energy targets. Engel urged the EU to "push itself out of its comfort zone" and strive for innovation.

There have been suggestions recently that the global growth in wind power could also see Vestas losing its position as market leader, with competitors such as Siemens Wind Power increasing market share. However, Engel refused to speculate on the future market share of his company. Speaking to Windpower Monthly, he said: "Our first milestone is 2015, when we want to see EUR15 billion in revenue, compared to EUR7 billion in 2009. What this will mean in terms of market share, we will see."

Meanwhile, the EC suggested at the launch of its 2020 economic strategy that it is ready to face the challenges highlighted by Engel, saying the global financial crisis had forced it to recognise that a radical change of policy is necessary.

"The crisis has exposed fundamental issues and unsustainable trends that we can not ignore any longer," said EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso. "We need to build a new economic model based on knowledge, a low-carbon economy and high employment levels."

The 2020 strategy, designed to drive the EU economy, should also deliver a significant rise in the amount of money available for R&D of low-carbon technologies. Barroso said that to achieve its new economic model, the EU should increase its R&D spending from a figure of less than 2% of GDP today to 3%, an increase of around EUR120 billion, to EUR367 billion a year. The EC suggested that a significant chunk of this cash would be invested in "developing cleaner, low-carbon technologies that will help our environment, contribute to fighting climate change and create new business and employment opportunities".

Green attack

The European Wind Energy Association said the strategy contained grid and market commitments that would boost the growth of wind energy in Europe. It highlighted the commission's promises to promote renewable energy sources in the single market and to publish proposals to upgrade Europe's networks towards a European super-grid.

However, the plan met with derision from environmentalists. John Hontelez, secretary general of the European Environmental Bureau, said the strategy offered nothing new on climate change and energy efficiency, claiming the 20% greenhouse gas reduction target, "with its wide-open loopholes, is not going to trigger real innovation".

Tony Long, director of the European policy office of environmental lobby group WWF, said: "We cannot be saddled for the next ten years with a strategy which is out of date before the ink is even dry." Member of the European Parliament Claude Turmes said the EU needed to better define its R&D priorities if the EU had the ambition to develop the region as a technological leader.


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