European Affairs

To achieve these goals, the European Council adopted a Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan) in March 2008 to accelerate the innovation of low-carbon energy technologies whilst encouraging European industry to turn threats of climate change and insecurity of supply into opportunities to increase competitiveness.

The SET Plan will be implemented through two notable initiatives. First, it creates a European Alliance on energy research to improve the coordination of research agendas at the community level. For such a purpose, a structured dialogue – comprised of high-ranking leaders of research institutes from member states – will be set up. In addition, the SET Plan includes a number of European Industrial Initiatives (EII) in well-targeted priority areas such as wind, solar, biofuels, electricity grids, CO2 capture and storage, hydrogen and Generation IV nuclear reactors. These initiatives will aim at reinforcing research and innovation with the objective to improve performance and reduce costs, mobilize the required “critical mass” and combine the efforts of the community, member states, and industry.

The SET Plan also includes a strategy for international cooperation which reinforces the already well-recognized and increasing need for greater global cooperation in achieving new science and technology for energy. This strategy will consolidate the positions of member states to achieve a more coherent partnership effect. The SET Plan does not start from scratch but builds on a set of actions already in place, such as the EU Research and Technological Development (RTD) Framework program, Intelligent Energy Europe (part of the Competitiveness and Innovation Program), the European Technology Platform (which brings stakeholders together to discuss research agendas), the European Research Area Networking Scheme (which encourages member states to coordinate Research and Development – R&D – programs), Networks of Excellence (which give research centers the opportunity to work together) and the already-existing Joint Technology Initiative on Hydrogen.

Over the years, the U.S. and EU have developed a solid relationship in scientific and technological cooperation which – in addition to our bilateral initiatives – includes activities in multilateral partnerships such as the International Energy Agency for renewable technologies, the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies and the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum for clean coal and carbon-capture-and-storage (CCS) technologies.

Both sides have worked on the idea that the political dialogue on energy and climate change should include R&D aspects on a systematic basis. In the final declaration of last year’s EU-U.S. Summit, second generation biofuels, CO2 capture-and-storage, energy efficiency, new renewable energy technologies, hydrogen and fuel cells were mentioned as relevant topics for transatlantic R&D cooperation. And at the 2008 EU-U.S. Summit that took place in Slovenia, we issued a new joint declaration that reaffirms our mutual commitment to intensify our cooperation on developing new science and technology aimed at energy and climate change in agreed priority areas. We must take this unique opportunity and momentum to enhance technology cooperation to tackle climate change and achieve energy security.

However, I think that our joint efforts should now focus on developing pragmatic approaches to reinforce cooperation and to translate our political commitments into concrete actions. Our transatlantic efforts must go beyond discussion forums; we must be ambitious in defining and implementing common actions, research agendas and initiatives. The task must be based on mutual interest, and it will require a strong commitment at the operational level from both sides. Cooperation must be extended to all interested parties from funding agencies to the scientific community and industry.

Good cooperation also means reciprocity. We must improve the information we provide on the possibilities and rules for U.S. participation in the 7th European Framework Program (FP7) and, reciprocally, the U.S. must be open to EU participation in U.S. R&D programs.

We must reinforce contacts in the different agreed areas of cooperation in order to build the necessary atmosphere of mutual confidence. We must improve our mutual knowledge about our program priorities and mechanisms and also generate specific proposals for bilateral and multilateral cooperation with mutual benefits and identifiable synergies.

All of the areas of common interest – photovoltaics, biofuels, clean coal and CCS – are addressed by the energy theme of the EU’s plan (known as FP7) for the period from 2007 to 2013. However, cooperation on these identified priority areas is not moving ahead satisfactorily.

The FP7 Energy program offers several opportunities and mechanisms for cooperation with the U.S. It opens all research topics to U.S. participation and targets opening other specific topics as well. Funding could be provided to U.S. participants where reciprocal funding is available to European scientists. Specific co-funded actions – such as coordinated calls to implement joint research or the “twinning” of projects of a similar nature from both sides – will also be possible.

And good cooperation depends on good preparation, especially when an ambitious co-funded form of cooperation is envisaged. For such a purpose, good contacts and mutual confidence is essential.

Despite 11 U.S. participations in eight projects in two areas (hydrogen/fuel cells and electricity networks), no proposal with U.S. participation has successfully passed the evaluation under the first FP7 call. We should apply the momentum offered to European and American researchers from the scientific community and industrial sector to intensify transatlantic cooperation on energy and climate change and work towards successful policy proposals.

Raffaele Liberali is Director of Energy Research, in the Research Directorate at the European Commission. This article is adapted from a talk he gave at an energy and environment roundtable sponsored by The European Institute in Washington on June 12, 2008.