The status of European research and development in renewable energy technologies with Vinicius Valente
“We support the creation of robust policies that give proper conditions to the development of innovative technologies and human resources to enable a prompt transition to a sustainable energy system.”
EUREC’s goal is to improve the quality and scope of European research and development in renewable energy technologies. The association promotes and supports the development of innovative technologies and human resources to enable a prompt transition to a sustainable energy system.
As EUREC’s public relations person, Vinicius Valente talked to us about EUREC’s projects as well as European energy policy and his view on the future of renewables.
The Beam: What is EUREC and what are its main missions?
Vinicius Valente: EUREC is a Brussels-based association representing the interests of European research centres and university departments active in the area of renewable energy technologies. We were founded in 1991 as European Economic Interest Grouping (E.E.I.G.) with the goal of improving the quality and scope of European research and development (R&D) in renewable energy.
Our main purpose is to promote and support the development of innovative technologies and human resources to enable a prompt transition to a sustainable energy system.
Today, EUREC represents over 40 members, which are prominent R&D groups spread across Europe, operating in all renewable energy technologies (wind, biomass, small hydro, marine, geothermal, photovoltaics, solar thermal electricity, and solar thermal heating and cooling).
Also, EUREC members perform research on supporting technologies covering the areas of energy efficiency, storage, distribution and integration, and conduct studies to evaluate the social and economic aspects surrounding renewable energy.
We fulfill many missions, including identifying research needs and enabling R&D for innovative and integrated renewable energy solutions, promoting sound policy making in renewable energy R&D, enabling innovation and technology transfer by connecting research and industry through project development, promoting the development of a highly qualified and trained workforce for the renewable energy sector and supporting international R&D cooperation.
What are the main challenges that society has faced since EUREC was created in 1991?
This is a broad question. The world has faced many challenges in the past 25 years, such as ethnic conflicts, freedom of thought, fighting racism, promoting gender equality, achieving universal education, combating extreme poverty and hunger and more recently terrorism and climate change.
At the same level, energy is for sure one of the biggest challenges that society faces today and is our main concern in EUREC.
Economic and population growth together drive the global energy demand. Several resources are available globally to respond to increasing numbers of people and energy demand.
Exploiting the resources, however, is not an easy task and demands strong efforts by national governments, the private sector and the scientific community, especially in a century dominated by the climate change threat.
The greatest energy challenge is, therefore, to provide citizens with a sustainable, affordable and reliable energy supply. EUREC plays a crucial role in Europe by promoting the sustainability, affordability and security of supply powered by renewables. We support the creation of robust policies that give proper conditions to the development of innovative technologies and human resources to enable a prompt transition to a sustainable energy system.
What remains the main obstacles to the development of renewable energy today?
Innovation is a complex process and we try to ensure that the EU creates the conditions that are conducive to innovation in renewable energy.
There’s also the topic of costs. Currently, we recognize that the levelised cost of energy from renewables is higher than from fossil fuels, but the difference is narrowing. There are already many locations where renewable energy with a high technology readiness level took the place of fossil fuels. Opening up more locations for the installation of renewable energy technologies as well as developing conditions for the combination of storage and renewables will keep the installation rates high and reduce the costs.
According to your research, which branch of renewable energy (for example solar, wind, geothermal) offers the best hope for our energy future?
We still lack a lot of research and innovation in this sector, so it’s premature to point to winners at this stage. In any case, EUREC believes that all renewable energy technologies have important roles to play and that, in the 2050 horizon, they have the potential to supply 100% of the energy needs in the EU.
How do you influence European energy policy?
EUREC’s prime focus is the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme (2014- 2020), which makes available over €5.2 billion for non-nuclear energy research and innovation activities. We have been playing a leading role in ensuring that Horizon 2020 gives appropriate attention to renewable energy technologies and the technologies that support their integration into the energy system.
EUREC provides a balanced view across all renewable energy technologies, efficiently passing its members’ messages directly to the European Commission and the European Parliament.
We actively engage with these EU institutions on energy research policy, maintaining a network of trusted and relevant actors who give our ideas serious attention.
We participate in public consultations, sit on committees that shape the EU’s R&D strategy, hold face-to-face meetings with relevant civil servants and politicians and present our views in conferences and workshops.
What is your hope for renewable energy in the next 20 years?
Europe has an EU-wide binding target for renewable energy of at least 27% in energy consumption. We believe that the target does not reflect the potential of diverse renewable energy options and support a more ambitious target of at least 45%.
Also, the aim of the “Paris Agreement” is to contain global warming by keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius by end of the century. Europe needs a much higher penetration of renewables if it is to contribute to this target.
We hope to find, in 20 years, the transformation of the EU energy system in a much more advanced stage, supported by robust policies that enable our scenario of 100% renewables in Europe by 2050.
You are involved in training activities. Can you tell us a little bit more about these?
As I previously mentioned, it is part of our mission to promote and support the development of human resources to work in this sector.
The renewable energy sector needs highly qualified professionals to work in the different aspects of technology development. Currently, there’s not enough qualified workforce in Europe to respond to this need. This is the reason why EUREC developed the European Master in Renewable Energy, which has been running since 2002. EUREC coordinates the programme, while the courses take place in nine European Universities and research centres who are leading the way in renewable energy research, development and demonstration.
Every year, over 50 students from all over the world enrol in the 16-month high-quality postgraduate course.
Also, we launched last year the European Master in Sustainable Energy System Management (SESyM), which focuses on the multidisciplinary aspects of energy systems. It provides management and communication skills, as well as the necessary technical knowledge to tackle the challenge of the energy system transition. The technical, legal and economic frameworks of the system integration of all energy resources taught in an international context will make SESyM graduates high value candidates for the entire energy industry.
Interview by Anne-Sophie Garrigou