Clean energy is a springboard for secure and sustainable growth

Clean innovation will require involvement from all sides and profound transformation, writes Jerzy Buzek.

Jerzy Buzek | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Jerzy Buzek

11 Sep 2017

The European Union's prosperity and global relevance over the coming decades will depend primarily on our ability to innovate. 

This is true for all policy areas, particularly those on which the EU's single market and real economy are founded. With most of the fundamental building blocks of our energy union in place, the need to accelerate clean energy innovation is a matter of overarching importance. 

It is clear as we seek global industrial competitiveness, sustainable growth and high-value jobs while making the transition to low-emission, high-efficiency economy and strengthening our energy security and independence.


Recognising these horizontal implications, the European Commission proposed a comprehensive framework for accelerating the EU's energy-related research and innovation deployment. 

Against the EU's current energy innovation landscape shaped by global commitments and energy transition towards more consumer-oriented, decentralised, digitalised systems, we need to brace ourselves for the profound change not only in the way we produce, transmit, use and store energy, but in the way we live and behave. 

The challenge of making this far-reaching socio-economic transformation into a true opportunity requires policies and instruments that are light and responsive, but at the same time create predictability and long-term certainty necessary for making a major leap in energy research and successfully deploying innovation.

One of our key tasks in setting the right framework that would boost innovation in this field is to ensure coherence of the EU's actions. This is about stable, long-term policy vision that brings together its different strands. 

With available surveys showing that highest value potential in clean energy innovation for the EU are likely to come from non-technology-specific, systemic solutions, it is crucial that our e  orts in research, energy, digital technologies, transport, regional policy, services, manufacturing, reindustrialisation and others are mutually reinforcing.

The right policy framework must go hand in hand with targeted incentives, improving legibility of financial instruments and mobilising patient equity capital. 

We must seek effective coordination of EU and national programmes to avoid duplication and ensure the most effective use of existing research infrastructure and resources. 

All these are crucial for maximising the market uptake of new energy technologies, services, solutions, and by this - EU industry's ability to succeed on global markets.

I was Parliament's rapporteur for the seventh framework programme, which introduced energy as a priority area in the EU's research and innovation efforts - a priority that has been maintained under Horizon 2020.

Today, I am convinced that an ambitious next framework programme (2021-2027) must play a crucial role in accelerating clean energy innovation. By 'ambitious', I mean FP9 with an increased overall budget of €120bln and the proposal to increase energy-related financing by 50 per cent.

Naturally, we also need equity capital and we will not succeed without strong involvement of the private sector.

Here we face a unique opportunity to look for out-of-the-box proposals to finance energy innovation. Coordinating efforts with global partners, through Mission Innovation as well as the various coalitions and initiatives that were borne out of the Paris agreement is one path.

Crowdfunding has already proved effective in allowing various projects to take shape and could also serve as a tool in giving our citizens a more direct role in energy innovation.

This brings me to the most fundamental issue - the role of citizens in energy transformation and in driving innovation. With energy systems becoming more dispersed and centred on prosumers, the energy landscape in general is becoming more democratic.

This is true not only in production and consumption, but in new services and solutions, in the way we design and apply energy innovation.

EU efforts to accelerate clean energy innovation will only succeed if we fully understand the mindset transition that Europeans will have to make. This is no longer a matter of better awareness and understanding of policies and processes. 

With IT technologies and digitalisation fostering decentralisation of systems and opening ever new ways of engaging citizens, Europeans of all ages will also gradually become more actively involved in steering energy innovation. As with all social processes, this will be a long one and we must address it through systemic education and engagement schemes. 

InnoEnergy Knowledge and Innovation Community at the European Institute of Innovation and Technology has already commenced work in the area of social appropriation of energy. I am convinced that this process will play an increasingly important role in the coming years.

The energy system is the blood stream to much of our activities. The effects of its transformation will reach well beyond economics. 

Mobilising the EU's unique potential to innovate across all energy sectors, and perhaps particularly in systemic solutions, offers the best chance for us to turn the challenges of this transformation into a springboard for our secure and sustainable growth, EU global industrial leadership, as well as a key building block of an engaged, knowledge-based society of tomorrow. 

And more profoundly, with the aims of our energy transition, this can be Europe's contribution to the tomorrow we want next generations of Europeans to live in.


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