The European Commission’s recent publication proposing massive spending by the 27 EU countries on wind and solar energy, carbon capture and nuclear power could result in billions of dollars going to European universities and research institutions over the next 10 years. Brussels says that the switch from fossil fuels to clean and renewable sources will require 50 billion Euro of spending over the decade, which will require almost tripling the annual investment in the European Strategic Energy Technology Plan from 3 billion Euro to 8 billion Euro.
At the centre of the programme are a number of EU initiatives for developing wind, solar and bio-energy, nuclear fission, carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) and electricity grids. There is no single indicated mode of financing, but rather the whole range of private and public resources will be brought into play, including investment in and from educational institutions. The Commission acknowledges that there will be risks, but argues that these should be encouraged. A Commission spokesman said: “There has to be ‘more risk-taking appetite’. Public support is needed when the level of technological uncertainties and market risk is high. This should act as an incentive for industry’s involvement, supported by a stronger investment from banks and private investors into the companies that will drive the transition to a low carbon economy.”
Clearly there will be large expenditure on energy research throughout the academic-industrial chain. The Commission foresees a “European Research Alliance” featuring research coordination between universities and specialised institutes and a high-level steering group on strategic energy technologies.
The final plan – the announcement of which was delayed from last year because of the financial crisis in Europe – allocates 6 billion Euro for research into wind energy, which the Commission believes could produce a fifth of the EU’s electricity by 2020. These funds would mainly help developments offshore where winds are stronger, by investing in next-generation turbines and new structures. In the solar energy field, 16 billion Euro will be spent on developing new photovoltaic concepts and large industrial installations to concentrate solar power. Brussels says that this could contribute 15% of EU electricity in 10 years.
Bioenergy research would get 9 Euro billion towards its goal of providing 14% of EU electricity while electricity grids would receive 2 billion Euro so that half of the networks could operate on smart grid principles to integrate renewables and implement the internal energy market.
CCS is set to receive 13 billion for up to 12 demonstration projects, and nuclear research would get 7 billion Euro for bringing its fourth generation reactors into operation. Up to 30 “Smart Cities” will build low-carbon houses and transport to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% at a cost of 11 billion Euro.
The Commission said that public-private partnerships were the most credible way to go about funding energy research, but it has not said how the burden should be shared, nor did it pledge any new EU money. At present, energy research funding, excluding nuclear, is 70% private and 30% public. The Commission said that there will have to be a “significant rise” in the public share in the short term to provide incentives to businesses.