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News 02 December 2020

Taking stock and looking ahead: EERA’s call in becoming the authoritative energy research body in the EU

In an effort to increase its contribution to the European Clean Energy Transition, EERA, in collaboration and with the support of the European Commission, organised the first edition of its dedicated side event to the SET Plan Conference. This edition brought together a high-level panel of experts that discussed the central role that R&I should play in accelerating the Clean Energy Transition (CET), as well as the central role that EERA is called to play.   

On November 25, EERA hosted its SET Plan Conference 2020 Side Event “Clean Energy Transition in Green Recovery times: What role for low carbon energy research?” in which more than 121 participants ranging from EU and national policymakers to researchers, representatives from the SET Plan community, and other R&I organisations took part. The aim of the event was to analyse how to leverage existing EERA projects and initiatives in order to achieve a greater impact, as well as to reflect on new initiatives that could further increase the impact of EU collaboration and substantially accelerate the speed of the transition.  

In his introduction, Nils Røkke, President of EERA, kick-started the conference by referring to EERA’s mission and vision and its close alignment with the Clean Energy Transition Partnership (CETP) presented in the final week of November, during the 2020 SET Plan Conference. “We could provide the best of knowledge into this process (…). Now we are also developing our own White Paper on the transition imperatives, extending beyond the CETP, to deliver a broader view about the societal requirements of the transition challenge; and this is about connecting the dots” Røkke stated.  

Following the introductory note, Adel El Gammal, EERA Secretary General, presented the general framework of the event which, following EERA’s remit, was divided into two major parts: connecting the dots and building capacities.  

Connecting the dots

During the first panel, and based on the framework developed in the EERA White paper on the CET, several non-technological dimensions required for achieving the transition were discussed, while also integrating knowledge and insights from key projects in which EERA is involved. For instance, Petter Støa, from SINTEF Energy Research, spoke about the importance of policy and regulatory frameworks for connecting the dots, bringing forward some reflections from the NECPs analysis that has been conducted within the framework of the SUPEERA project.  

For their part, Chris Foulds and Rosie Robinson, researchers at the Anglia Ruskin University and leading the Energy-SHIFTS project, highlighted the pivotal importance of Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) to make possible a carbon-neutral society, as the energy transition entails a fundamental societal change for which social innovation and a cutting-edge SSH approach should necessarily be taken into consideration.  

This panel also counted with the contribution of Gerdi Breembroek, adviser at RVO and member of the CETP core team, who addressed the crucial importance of R&I in accelerating the clean energy transition by designing and deploying innovative solutions. In addition, two EERA Joint Programme coordinators completed the programme of the first session, namely Laurens de Vries (TU Delft) who outlined relevant challenges in the field of energy system integration; and Lorenzo Malerba (CIEMAT) who charted relevant cross-cutting activities and challenges relating to circularity aspects.  

Building capacities

The second panel  was opened with a keynote speech by Helene Chraye, Head of the Clean Energy Transition Unit of DG for Research and Innovation, who discussed about the crucial role R&I plays for the Clean Energy Transition and the SET Plan. “What is needed within the framework of the Clean Energy Transition is a strengthened cooperation between its various instruments; this is at the core of the new proposal for the 2021-2027 Financial Framework” Helene Chraye stated. Moreover, Ms. Chraye emphasized how energy is at the core of the climate challenge and the needed transition. This may translate into “a reinforced role for all entities working in energy and, especially, for EERA. I want to take this opportunity and ask EERA to further develop its role as a think tank” she concluded.  

For his part, Mark van Stiphout, Deputy Head of Unit in DG Energy spoke about the recently published Competitiveness Progress Report (CPR) focusing on clean energy transition and energy performance and evaluating whether clean energy technologies are ready to transform the green transition into a competitive reality.

The event continued with an intervention by Bertrand Bouchet, Director of European Affairs at CEA, who spoke about the pivotal importance of accelerating R&I national and EU collaboration and emphasized relevant policy drivers and opportunities. Marta March, Head of Unit of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, Spanish representative in the SET Plan Steering Group, and co-chair of the Implementation Working Group on Concentrated Solar Power, supported this view and presented her perspective on what can be done in order to reinforce EU collaboration in the field of R&I. 

To conclude the panellist’s contributions, Ils Moorkens (VITO) discussed the National Energy & Climate Plans (NECPs), which will be guiding the allocation of the recovery fund, and how they are linked to R&I strategies at national level. 

Both sessions were followed by constructive discussions that brought relevant and additional insights about the topics covered by each of the panels.  

EERA's role: Looking beyond compartmentalised energy technology research 

EERA has aligned its mission to Europe 2050 climate targets and has therefore recently been expanding its endeavours by advancing research and supporting policymaking in all key dimensions of the transition, including but also beyond technology excellence.  

In this framework, the Alliance positively welcomed the call to step up its efforts and is currently increasing resources to build a distinctive intelligence on the requirements and implications of driving the Clean Energy Transition. “EERA has some unique features, and that is not only about connecting the dots, but also connecting Member States and Associated Countries to the European level” in the field of energy research, Nils Røkke asserted.  

As such, EERA is devoting substantial efforts to reflect on how to best exploit its unique positioning to build more capacities, facilitate the coordination of the research community, and accelerate the innovation and uptake by the industry. Central to this effort is the White Paper on the Clean Energy Transition, which proposes a robust framework for approaching this challenge from a holistic, systemic, cross-sectoral, and multi-disciplinary perspective as the way forward to make Europe a climate-neutral society by 2050.