There is no silver bullet solution to the energy challenge

Climate change is gaining more and more importance, also within the EU´s daily agenda. Business as usual is no longer an option. Thus the European Commission has outlined a package tackling the issues of energy and climate change, including a “European Strategic Energy Technology Plan” to boost research on energy efficient technologies. Andris Piebalgs, EUCommissioner for Energy, explains what that plan holds in detail.

Mr. Piebalgs, could you please explain the draft outline of the EU´s new energy road map and why it is so important to come up with a new strategy now?

The comprehensive Energy Policy adopted by the Commission in January 2007 tackles the huge challenges that Europe and the world are facing: climate change, security of supply and competitiveness. So yes, we can not continue business as usual. We are therefore working on a European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan), which will be to identify targeted large-scale initiatives for specific technologies for which the European Union needs to work together to accelerate their pathway to the market. Current trends show that we are not meeting our current Kyoto and renewables targets. Transforming the energy system will take decades but we need to transform the energy technology research and innovation system to deliver the technologies that meet our policy goals now. In addition, there is no „silver bullet“ solution to the energy challenge. We need a broad portfolio of efficient and low carbon technologies that one Member State or one company can not develop in isolation. We can only make a difference if we join efforts at a European level.

What is the role of fusion technology within the EU´s strategy plan?

Electricity produced by fusion is a low carbon technology. The fusion technology, which reproduces the process that powers the sun and makes all life on earth possible, has the potential to provide a sustainable solution to global energy needs but it requires large scale development and implementation. Global energy demand is expected to double by the year 2050, mainly because people in developing countries become wealthier. Securing long-term energy supply is a major challenge not only for Europe but for the world. Therefore, the international community has joined its efforts to give a global response to a global problem by launching an international collaboration for an experimental fusion facility called ITER, as a necessary step ahead to continue past European activities with the aim of further developing fusion technology. The important European contribution for hosting and funding ITER comes from the Community‘s Euratom Research Framework Programmeme (FP7 foresees €1947 million for the 2007-2011 period) and national funds from the Members States, showing the interest and the efforts of the EU for accelerating the development on a commercial scale of this promising energy source for the future.

What are – in your eyes – the prospects offered by fusion energy?

The Commission has recently proposed an energy policy for Europe that includes a package of integrated measures to accelerate the transition from the current large dependence on hydrocarbon sources to national energy mix options based on larger use of renewable and low carbon energy sources. Fusion is part thereof. The long term priority goal of fusion power development is to achieve a reliable and economically viable production of electricity, with minimum environmental impact. However, considering the period necessary for constructing and operating the ITER reactor and the need of a subsequent scaling-up stage for large scale demonstration of the technology (construction of the so called DEMO facility foreseen in some 30 years), the deployment of commercial fusion reactors cannot be expected before the second half of the century.

In a recent speech you made a criticism that Europe missed its opportunity to take the lead in the multi-billion euro market for low carbon and energy efficient technologies. How could we profit from dealing with climate change?

Since 1990 the EU has been engaged  in an ambitious and successful plan to become the world leader in renewable energies and energy efficiency. The EU‘s renewable energy market has an annual turnover of €15 billion (half of the world market) and employs some 300.000 people and it is a major exporter. With oil prices rising, and carbon having a price, the market for low carbon and energy efficient technologies is going to boom. Companies around the world have realised this and there are important investments in research all around the globe. We should use the opportunity of our commitments to put the EU in the leading position not only in the use of these technologies but also in its development, and this can only be done with an ambitious RTD programme. This is what the Commission is going to present at the end of the year with its Strategic European energy Technology Plan.

On your website you write that an individual member state cannot tackle today‘s energy challenges on its own. So, beyond all technological aspects, do you think the joint European Fusion Community – and further more ITER – could serve as good examples?

This is certainly the case of many European projects of which ITER is certainly the biggest in scale and it involves not only the European efforts but also at international level. The efforts in ITER will pave the way for the energy of the future in the long term. In the short term, we should devote big efforts to make Carbon Capture and Storage (CSS) technologies available, develop second generation biofuels or make renewable sources of energy competitive. The potential of these technologies are so huge, that we cannot allow the EU to miss this opportunity.

ISSN 1818-5355

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editors: Örs Benedekfi, Sabina Griffith

layout: Stefan Kolmsperger

© Jérôme Paméla (EFDA Leader) 2007.

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