Norwegian forum looks at the role of research in promoting sustainable energy

Brussels, 23 May 2003

With developed countries expected to remain dependent on fossil fuel derived energy for the foreseeable future, and with an ever increasing demand for energy within the developing world, a forum opened in Brussels on 22 May, hosted by the Norwegian Mission to the EU, to analyse the role that research can play in the promotion of sustainable energy systems.

Introducing the topic in the context of Norway's energy sector, Odd S. Haraldsen, Deputy Director General of the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, said that new technology would be the decisive factor when looking for sustainable solutions to the challenges facing Norway's energy industry.

Given the wealth of natural energy resources in Norway, Mr Haraldsen sees a role for the country as a test bed for innovative and sustainable energy technologies, particularly in areas such as offshore oil extraction and carbon sequestration.

Mr Haraldsen announced that the Norwegian government would be appointing an expert group to coordinate research on the methods of producing, storing, distributing and using hydrogen. The group, he said, would also look at potential areas for research collaboration with EU and other countries, and described Norway's participation in the EU's research framework programmes, alongside national activities, as an excellent foundation for future advances in sustainable energy production and use.

Outlining the mechanisms and policies for promoting sustainable energies at EU level, Angel Perez Sainz, Head of Unit at the Commission's DG Research, also highlighted the contribution of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). With a budget of 17.5 billion euro over four years, FP6 represents only five per cent of total research expenditure in the EU, therefore Mr Sainz stressed that its resources would be focussed towards a limited number of key areas, such as more efficient use of fossil fuels, carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration, hydrogen, and fuel cell technology.

William Gillett, Deputy Head of Unit at the Commission's DG Transport and Energy, echoed this idea by saying that the limited resources available for research at EU level will focus on 'lighthouse projects: highly visible demonstration projects that stimulate general demand for energy efficient technologies and solutions.'

Mr Gillett also stressed the importance of running 'soft' programmes, in parallel with technology based research initiatives, whose main focus is to manage the transition of innovative products to the wider market without resorting to subsidies which, in his view, 'are unsustainable in the long term'.

The capacity for international cooperation within FP6 and the European Research Area (ERA), according to Mr Gillett, is a key tool, not only in order to maximise the global impact of Community initiatives, but also so that the EU can draw benefit from activities being undertaken in other countries around the world.

This theme of international cooperation was taken up by Swedish MEP Anders Wijkman, who warned that the EU's sustainable energy initiatives would only be effective if they succeeded in reducing the demand for energy in all parts of the world. 'It is in our interest to ensure that the developing world is more energy efficient, because if not, initiatives in the developed world will have little overall impact,' he said.

Mr Wijkman pointed out that within the International Energy Agency (IEA) member states, funding for energy research has been halved over the last 20 years. Furthermore, he said that while research into renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency accounted for 26 per cent of total energy research funding in IEA countries, funding for research into nuclear energy stands at 47 per cent. 'Clearly, this is not the right balance.'

Mr Wijkman argued that whilst an efficient approach to energy use and production would lead to a 50 per cent reduction of CO2 emissions, and cost savings of 30 per cent for the energy sector, the overall effect on European competitiveness would be negligible. In order to integrate energy efficiency into the core values of the EU, Mr Wijkman suggested that the target of reducing energy consumption by 2.5 per cent annually could be included in the Lisbon process for competitiveness.

In conclusion, Mr Wijkman outlined a role for European institutions and policy makers in championing a more efficient approach to energy production and consumption in the context of a liberalised EU energy market. 'We must challenge market hegemony. The open market is good for many things, but not for dealing with issues such as sustainable development,' he argued

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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