Low carbon energy research and innovation in Europe is set to get what appears to be a lion’s share of funding from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme in its last three years from 2018 to 2020.
Up for distribution is an amount of €30bn, out of a total €77bn allocated to the programme from its start in 2014.
Out of this, €2.2bn has been allocated for clean energy projects, out of the €3.3bn for a ‘low carbon, climate resilient future’. In addition, energy will benefit both directly and indirectly from other allocations, including the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, low carbon transportation, new innovations through the newly established European Innovation Council, ‘blue sky’ research and international cooperation.
The focus is on fewer topics with bigger budgets directly supporting the Commission’s political priorities, according to a statement. In the case of energy, this is the formation of the low carbon-based Energy Union.
Clean energy Europe
The work programme entitled ‘Secure, clean and efficient energy’, is designed to support “research, demonstration, innovation and market-uptake actions across different low carbon energy sectors.”
The core priorities, which were identified in the Energy Union strategy, are renewable energy, smart energy systems and energy efficiency, along with the additional priority of carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS). Within these areas, a special focus is put on three strategic research and innovation priorities, viz. decarbonising the EU building stock by 2050, strengthening EU leadership on renewables and developing affordable and integrated energy storage solutions.
Breaking down the priority areas, energy efficiency encompasses 15 project topics, including upgrading building energy performance and smartness, improving energy efficiency in industry and services, advancing investment and valorising energy efficiency and flexibility as a resource.
The leadership in renewables priority encompasses 19 project topics, including developing next generation renewable technologies, advancing consumer scale technologies and renewable fuels for transport, and supporting market uptake.
The smart energy priority is broadly divided into clean energy for consumers with three project topics, citizen centred energy systems with eight project topics and a smart cities and communities project topic.
The CCUS priority is focused on moving towards near zero CO2 emissions from fossil fuel power plants and carbon intensive industries in six project topics.
A further five topics are listed under joint actions, which encompass public sector and/or public-private partnerships, and six under cross-cutting issues, including social, cultural and other related issues.
Support for storage
Out of the €2.2bn clean energy allocation, €200m is earmarked to support the development and production of the next generation of electric batteries.
The context, encapsulated in a statement issued by Energy Union Vice President, Maroš Šefčovic, following a high level meeting on the topic in October, is the widely felt need to establish “a full value chain of batteries in Europe”.
“The lack of a domestic, European cell manufacturing base jeopardises the position of EU industrial customers because of the security of the supply chain, increased costs due to transportation, time delays, weaker quality control or limitations on the design.”
According to the statement, a strategic plan in the form of a comprehensive roadmap for an EU Battery Alliance is expected to be presented in February 2018.
In addition to the general development of blockchain, two of the innovations through the European Innovations Council are worthy of note.
One is the development of innovative batteries for electric vehicles making use of new materials and chemistries to achieve faster charging, greater range and longer cycle life.
The other is to prototype artificial synthesis using the sun’s energy to produce a useable synthetic fuel. This process is considered to be among the most promising to deliver sustainable alternatives to current fuel supplies, which may be either hydrogen or carbon-based.
Horizon 2020 outcomes
The funds will be distributed in amounts of approximately €651m in 2018, €749m in 2019 and €805m in 2020.
According to the work programme document, the activities supported should deliver on the supply side, cheaper and more performant generation technologies (e.g. renewable energy technologies) which are better integrated in various levels of the energy system, and a smarter, more flexible and resilient energy system (including affordable and integrated energy storage solutions), taking into account current and future climate change adverse impacts.
On the demand side, delivery should be increased overall energy efficiency (e.g. in the EU's building stock) and provision of means to enable consumers to play a more active role in the energy transition, and a better understanding of the specific socio-economic contexts in which the energy transition takes place which will allow to address obstacles in a more effective way.
In addition, there should be increased market uptake of innovations, including the implementation of energy policy, preparation for rolling out investments and support for capacity building.
Horizon 2020 achievements
Horizon 2020 is described as the biggest EU research and innovation funding programme ever.
It follows FP7, which if the achievements in significantly advancing the development of smart metering and smart grid, are anything to go, bodes well for its outcomes.
The recent interim evaluation of Horizon 2020 reveals that it is attracting more than 30,000 proposals a year, compared with the 20,000 of FP7, indicating not only the demand for such funding but also the competition that project applicants can expect – and which ultimately can only benefit our sector.
According to the BRIDGE initiative, in 2017 Horizon 2020 funding is supporting a total of 32 smart grid and energy storage research projects involving 379 organisations.