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BB200607, Policy News

FP7 : European Parliament prioritises research for Renewable Energy

29.01.2007

Two thirds of the non-nuclear energy research budget under FP7 is to go to renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.

At its plenary session in Strasbourg on 15 June, the European Parliament voted to dedicate approximately two thirds of the non-nuclear energy research budget to renewable energy and energy efficiency for the next seven years, under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7).

In an era of energy uncertainty, the European Parliament has made a bold statement - that renewables are a vital part of Europe’s future energy mix. For the wind industry, the decision will contribute to further progress of the technology and reduced cost, while maintaining Europe’s leading position in the global market.

"The European Parliament’s vote reverses decades of unbalanced focus on fossil fuel energy research,” said Christian Kjaer, EWEA CEO. “After today’s vote, Europe is moving closer to a European energy future based on known and predictable cost of energy, derived from clean and indigenous energy sources free of all the security, political, economic and environmental disadvantages associated with the current energy supply structure.”

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has established that research has lead to about 40% of wind energy cost reductions over the last twenty years, so the Parliament has taken a big step towards enabling wind energy to reach cost parity with - and even to undercut - the cheapest alternatives.

However, the decision has still to be agreed by the Member States at the next Competitiveness Council, under the Finnish Presidency, which will begin on 1 July.

According to the wishes of the Parliament, non-nuclear energy research will total €2.4 billion over the seven years of the programme (2007 – 2013). Two thirds of this for renewables and energy efficiency would equal about €226 million per annum.

"Greater funding will help wind technology’s contribution to the Lisbon Strategy" added Hugo Chandler, EWEA’s research policy advisor. "A strong research base is essential for Europe to keep her global leadership in the wind market, worth €12 billion annually and rising fast. It will stimulate private industry to get more deeply involved, and to collaborate more closely with the public sector.”"

The vote was by no means a close run thing. A hastily formed coalition of supporting MEPs side-stepped an oral amendment tabled at the last moment, which, had it not been overthrown, could have seriously weakened the impact of the report.

The European Parliament has no legislative powers in the area of nuclear energy research, however, which is expected to receive €580 million per annum over the next five years under a separate Euratom research budget.

This point was underlined by Socialist MEP and member of the ITRE Committee, Mechtild Rothe, who, speaking after the vote, said: "This priority for the promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency research is necessary not only for ecological and economic reasons, but also to counter the existing massive subsidies for fossil and nuclear energy."

Assuming the report is accepted by the Council of Ministers – and not sent back to the Parliament for a Second Reading – the journey towards real funding for wind energy research will still not be over. The next task is to effectively lobby the European Commission. This is not a simple matter. The European Commission has just decided to completely ignore the European Parliament's decision in its revised proposal for FP7 from 28 June. The idea persists in some quarters that wind energy has left the basic research phase, and that only short-term research is required - to ‘fine-tune’ the technology.

This misunderstanding was well reflected in the minuscule funding wind energy received for research under the Sixth Framework Programme. The only long term funding was won through the UpWind "integrated project" which kicked off in the spring of this year – in other words €14.3 million for the complete programme of four years.

While wind energy technology is in a broad sense indeed closer to market than other renewable energy technologies is, this does not mean that no research and development remains to be done in the longer term. On the contrary, enormous potential still exists for cost reductions and efficiency gains – not least in offshore wind energy - through new designs, new materials and new manufacturing and testing tools, as well as improved power control.

On 6 June, at the invitation of the European Commission, stakeholders from across the wind energy sector gathered at the Renewable Energy House in Brussels to establish their priorities for wind energy research, and identified five key priorities for wind energy research including: wind energy systems; integration of wind power into the European Power System; testing, standards and certification; external conditions, resource assessment, and forecasting; and socio-economic and environmental issues. The table at the end of this article, which represents the revisiting of the Strategic Research Agenda prepared by the sector in 2005, provides more detail.

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