Fusion’s role in Europe’s low carbon energy future

Günther Oettinger

EU Commissioner for Energy, Günther H. Oettinger

Six years ago the EU set itself ambitious energy and climate change objectives for 2020 – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, to increase the share of renewable energy to 20% and to make a 20% improvement in energy efficiency. This triggered major efforts at EU-level as well as across Member States in a number of areas, starting with the adoption of the EU directives on energy efficiency, renewables and emission trading scheme and ending with developments in research, technology and demand-side management. These are the first steps in what will be a radical restructuring of the energy landscape.

Keeping in mind the grand vision of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% by 2050, while improving Europe’s competitiveness and ensuring security of supply, the European Commission together with stakeholders is currently considering the type, nature and level of climate and energy targets that could be set for 2030. The EU Energy Roadmap 2050, tabled by the Commission at the end of 2011, presents various possible scenarios leading towards the 80-95% decarbonisation objective. Based on the analysis of a set of scenarios, the document describes the consequences of a carbon free energy system and the policy framework needed. This should allow member states to make the required energy choices and create a stable business climate for private investment, especially until 2030.

Of the five decarbonisation scenarios, three are based on the assumption that nuclear energy (14-19%) will retain a significant role in the electricity mix. This is based on the belief, that Member States wishing to exploit nuclear technology will either extend operation of existing plants or build the latest ‘Generation-III’ plants. The Commission therefore continues to play a key role in ensuring that safety remains paramount in the use of nuclear energy.

Fusion research is aimed at developing a safe, abundant and environmentally sound energy source. The EFDA roadmap on fusion energy, endorsed recently by Europe’s fusion research stakeholders, foresees the operation of a ‘DEMO’ plant, which would supply electricity to the grid, by the middle of the 21st century. This would be followed by a FOAK (first of a kind) power plant and then commercial deployment of fusion in the second half of the century. To this end the successful construction and exploitation of ITER, which will be the first fusion facility to demonstrate the feasibility of fusion power at the reactor scale, cannot be underestimated. As one of the world’s largest joint research endeavours, ITER is a challenge not only scientifically but also organisationally. The European Atomic Energy Community is the main contributor to this cutting-edge project, and I am personally committed to ensuring its success. I hope that the European fusion community will put all their efforts into this project and that it will become a showcase for fusion science and technology in general and for European competences and know-how in particular. The Euratom programme in Horizon 2020 will be an important opportunity to show our commitment and make significant progress along the EFDA roadmap.
Fusion has all the right credentials to contribute to the supply of plentiful, competitive and sustainable energy in the longer term. Although few of us will live to see the full realisation of this energy form we have a responsibility towards future generations to carry out the necessary R&D and explore all the avenues. I am convinced that if we join our forces in Europe and collaborate effectively with our international partners we will reach these ambitious goals.

EU Commissioner for Energy, Günther H. Oettinger was Minister-President of the German state Baden-Württemberg from 2005 until he took over the position as Commissioner in February 2010. He studied law an ecomonics in Tübingen, Germany and worked as lawyer and CEO of an auditing and tax consulting firm. Between 1984 and 2010 he was member of the State Parliament of Baden-Württemberg. Oettinger is a member of the Governing Board and the Federal Executive Committee of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU Deutschland).