Making the EU's energy system sustainable is a process that will require a "sea-change in European energy technology innovation", according to the European Commission, in a communication to be published on 10 January.

The document spells out "structural weaknesses" affecting such innovation at present. These include diverse market incentives, network connection challenges, and the dominant position of certain actors. Such weaknesses are compounded by "disappointing progress" towards a European Research and Innovation area, and declining energy research budgets (both public and private), which the paper notes have halved in OECD countries since the 1980s.

The purpose of the communication, which will form part of a package of energy-related proposals to be adopted by the Commission, is to set out how the EU executive intends to address the situation through the development of a European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (or SET-Plan). The strategic goal of such a plan will be to identify a "portfolio" of technologies "for which it is essential that the European Union as a whole finds a more powerful way of mobilising resources in ambitious result-oriented actions to accelerate development and deployment". These will include technologies presently at different stages of development, ranging from those which can be deployed immediately to those where breakthroughs are still required, or which will require major changes to existing infrastructures to be introduced. Possible examples given include biorefineries, sustainable coal and gas technologies, hydrogen fuel cells and Generation IV nuclear fission.


The different challenges and barriers facing the commercialisation of each of these technologies will be identified in the plan, along with an appropriate set of policy instruments to deal with them. The communication sets out a long but non-exhaustive list of such instruments, dividing them up into those relating to technology development (technology push), and those relating to the market introduction process (demand pull). While the former category includes the EU's 7th Framework Research Programme, the European Coal and Steel Research Fund, and venture capital, the latter encompasses factors such as public procurement policies, voluntary industry agreements, energy taxation and the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme. The plan will set out "precise and measurable objectives", including...

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