Energy Research Knowledge Centre


Research themes and prioritisation


Energy research in the EU is driven by the EU energy and climate policy, which aims to establish a sustainable, secure and competitive energy system. This aim is implemented by making energy technologies cleaner, safer and more affordable. EU research policy supports these requirements by providing an effective R&D framework, tools and information.

Specific targets related to climate and energy are included in the Europe 2020 strategy, which sets the EU’s growth strategy for the current decade. At the same time, the Energy 2020 strategy puts forward the concept of sustainable growth by setting three specific EU targets:

  • A reduction of at least 20 % in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2020 (compared to 1990), rising to 30 % if the conditions are right[1]
  • A 20 % share of renewables in the EU’s energy consumption by 2020
  • A 20 % reduction of the EU’s total primary energy consumption by 2020 through increased energy efficiency (compared to projected 2020 levels).

In 2008, the European Commission proposed the Climate and Energy Package as binding legislation to achieve the 20/20/20 targets. The package became law a year later and imposes complementary legislation in areas such as strengthening of the Emissions Trading System (ETS).

In 2011, the European Commission set long-term targets by adopting the Low-Carbon Roadmap 2050 (covering all sectors of the economy) and the Energy Roadmap 2050 (specifically for the energy sector). Through these two documents the EU committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80–95% below 1990 levels by 2050. The Roadmaps serve as a basis to develop a common long-term European framework in energy and climate change.

The policy framework for energy research at EU level is spearheaded by the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan), which acts as the technology pillar of energy and climate policy in the EU. The SET-Plan was adopted by the European Commission in 2008 with the aim of putting in place an energy technology policy for Europe. The main objective of the initiative is to enhance the development of low-carbon energy technology solutions leading to their market uptake, while boosting European competitiveness in the field. It is also one of the initiatives that contribute to two Flagship Initiatives, ‘Innovation Union’ and “Resource Efficient Europe’, and it is a vehicle to promote renewable sources of energy.

Key components of SET-Plan implementation include:

  • Joint large-scale technology development projects. These include six European Industrial Initiatives (EIIs) on Wind, Solar (both concentrated solar and photovoltaic), Carbon Capture and Storage, Electricity Grids, Bioenergy, and Nuclear Fission, and one Joint Technology Initiative on Fuel Cells and Hydrogen.
  • The Smart Cities and Communities European Innovation Partnership. This proposes the pooling of resources to support the demonstration of energy, transport, and information and communication technologies (ICT) in urban areas. The energy, transport and ICT sectors are invited to work together with cities to combine their technologies to address cities’ needs.
  • European Energy Research Alliance Joint Programmes (EERA JPs). JPs were created in 2010 in the areas of Photovoltaics, Wind Energy, Geothermal Energy and Smart Grids. In 2011 another six EERA JPs were launched on Advanced Materials and Processes for Energy Application (AMPEA), Concentrated Solar Power, Energy Storage, Fuel Cells and Hydrogen, Ocean Energy and Smart Cities.

Energy research in the EU stretches across a large number of fields beyond those mentioned above. It is also funded by a wide range of programmes, including ones that are only indirectly related to energy, such as FP7 Environment and FP7 Transport.

[1] i.e. if there is an international agreement committing other developed countries to ‘comparable emission reductions’ and ‘economically more advanced developing countries to contributing adequately according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities’.

Organisation of research


EU activities in the field of research aim to develop a common policy, improve co-ordination and promote the use of science in policymaking. Research is promoted through programmes that promote co-operation among actors within and outside Europe. The EU also plays a key role in promoting the dissemination of research results, and the training and mobility of researchers, engineers and technicians. All these activities complement the research being carried out at Member State level. The EU dedicates considerable resources to supporting research, but much funding is made available at national level. Efforts are therefore being made at EU level to improve the effectiveness and coherence of the research effort at both EU and Member State levels.

The SET-Plan’s joint technology projects play an important role in this effort. They define a common vision of the energy system and the tools to achieve it, thus implementing the concept of the European Research Area (ERA) in the energy field. The ERA concept was established in 2000 with a view to bringing national research activities closer together and increasing collaboration between Member States, for example through the development of common research agendas on selected topics.

Figure 1: Organisational structure of energy research in the EU.

Figure 1 shows a broad outline of the structure of energy research in the EU. The EU, mainly through the European Commission, designs and implements energy research in the EU with the help of stakeholders including Member States, industry and research bodies. The role of each stakeholder at the various stages of research varies between different programmes.

Energy research is implemented mainly through the SET-Plan and the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), including their respective components. Although the diagram shows these programmes separately, in practice they are closely linked since the majority of FP7 energy topics are in line with the objectives of the SET-Plan’s Industrial Initiatives. Such links exist in other programmes, too. For example, the European Technology Platforms have contributed to the definition of the FP7’s Cooperation themes, while the European Energy Programme for Recovery (EEPR) addresses key challenges and priorities for projects in the field of gas and electricity infrastructure, as well as offshore wind energy (OWE) and carbon capture and storage (CCS) identified in the SET-Plan (see below).

Programmes and budgets


Energy-related research and demonstration is supported by FP7-Energy, the European Energy Programme for Recovery and other programmes, shown in Table 1. Below that, Table 2 shows the indicative breakdown of Horizon 2020, with energy research to be funded under III.3 Secure, clean and efficient energy and also other lines.

Table 1: Main funding programmes related to energy research at European level.

*This is the total budget, only a small share goes to energy-related research.

Programmes and initiatives

European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan)

Adopted in 2008, the SET-Plan provides the energy research policy framework of the EU. Key components in the SET-Plan are its joint large-scale technology development projects. These include six European Industrial Initiatives (EIIs) on Wind, Solar (both concentrated solar and photovoltaic), Carbon Capture and Storage, Electricity Grids, Bioenergy and Nuclear Fission, and one Joint Undertaking on Fuel Cells and Hydrogen. The SET-Plan also encompasses the SET-Plan Information System (SETIS), the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA) and the SET-Plan Steering Group.

EERA was founded by leading European research institutes and aims to accelerate the development of new energy technologies with the help of Joint Research Programmes supporting the SET-Plan by concentrating activities and resources, combining national and EU sources of funding, and maximising complementarities and synergies. It works by identifying and defining Joint Programmes of research, sharing information and strategic plans, and engaging proactively with industry.

SETIS, led by the JRC, is the European Commission’s Information System for the SET-Plan. It supports the strategic planning and implementation of the SET-Plan. The Energy Research Knowledge Centre in turn facilitates the efforts of SETIS to analyse trends in energy research activities at national and European levels, derive thematic analyses and policy recommendations from the aggregated project results, and provide a platform for Europe’s energy research community.

The SET-Plan instituted the SET-Plan Steering Group to ensure the implementation and joint planning of its initiatives. The Steering Group consists of High Level representatives from Member States and the European Commission. The European Commission provides the Chair and Secretariat and each Member State can designate up to two representatives, usually from their energy and research authorities.

Seventh Framework Programme (FP7)

FP7 is the chief EU instrument for funding scientific research and technological development over the period 2007–2013. One of the objectives of FP7 is the development and promotion of technologies that are necessary to establish a safe, sustainable and competitive energy supply.

Energy research activities under FP7 aim to:

  • Improve energy efficiency throughout the energy system, taking into account overall environmental performance;
  • Accelerate the penetration of renewables;
  • Decarbonise power generation and, in the longer term, substantially decarbonise transport;
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Diversify Europe’s energy mix;
  • Enhance the competitiveness of European industry.

Energy is addressed in several FP7 activities that are aligned with the SET-Plan. FP7 is made up of four specific programmes, namely Cooperation, Ideas, People and Capacities, and a programme on nuclear research. Most activities related to energy are funded through the Cooperation Programme. The Cooperation specific programme supports a wide range of transnational research in 10 different areas, notably Energy. Energy-related research is also partly addressed in other cross-cutting FP7 themes, such as ‘Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Biotechnology’ (Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy), ‘Information and Communication Technologies’, ‘Nanosciences, Nanotechnologies, Materials and New Production Technologies, ‘Environment (Including Climate Change)’ and ‘Transport (Including Aeronautics)’. These themes often cover issues related to energy or energy efficiency.

Energy research is also supported by the specific programmes People (particularly the ‘Marie Curie’ programme) and Ideas, which is implemented through the European Research Council (ERC). In some cases resource efforts are directed through a Joint Technology Initiative (JTI). JTIs are long-term public-private partnerships that are set up when the objective of the research and the resources involved can justify this approach.

FP7 provides grants to researchers and research projects and helps bring together different organisations active in a wide range of research areas. It is managed by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Research (DG RTD), with the FP7 Energy programme being co-managed with DG ENER.

Another key component of FP7 is Euratom, which is legally separate from the EU institutions but is managed by EU institutions, namely the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and DG RTD.

Below are short descriptions of the FP7 themes that relate directly or indirectly to energy, most of them under the specific programme Cooperation. They are followed by a description of Horizon 2020, which will replace FP7 for the next research funding period.

FP7 Cooperation – Energy

Focus is given to the following activities:

  • Hydrogen and fuel cells – complementing electricity production;
  • Renewable electricity generation – increasing conversion and cost efficiency and lowering the environmental burden;
  • Renewable fuel production – improvement of fuel production and conversion of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels from biomass;
  • Renewables for heating and cooling – development of passive heating and cooling systems with the use of renewable energy sources;
  • CO2 capture and storage technologies for zero-emission power generation – increasing cost-effectiveness and safety;
  • Clean coal technologies – closely connected to the activity on CO2 capture and storage technologies, this activity aims to minimise CO2 emissions;
  • Smart energy networks – enhancing the efficiency and safety of electricity and gas networks;
  • Energy efficiency and savings – developing new technological concepts for improved efficiency of energy consumption;
  • Knowledge for energy policymaking – assessment of social and economic issues to support policymaking.

FP7 Cooperation – Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)

The main objective of ICT research under FP7 is to increase the competitiveness of EU industry and to strengthen the European scientific and technology base. Several projects carried out under this programme address ICT related to energy, such as in renewable energy technologies and ICT for energy efficiency.

FP7 Cooperation – Nanosciences, Nanotechnologies, Materials and New Production Technologies (NMP)

This research theme aims to develop knowledge-based traditional industries and new high-added-value products. NMP addresses energy through several material-related projects in areas such as batteries and building efficiency.

FP7 Cooperation – Transport

FP7 Transport covers energy-related aspects of transport research in aeronautics and air transport (including the greening of air transport) and sustainable surface transport (rail, road and waterborne, including the greening of these modes).

FP7 Cooperation – Environment (Including Climate Change)

FP7-Environment funds some research topics that include energy-related issues such as climate change mitigation, sustainable consumption patterns and life-cycle assessments of technologies.

FP7 Cooperation – Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy (KBBE)

The primary aim of funding the Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Biotechnology research theme is to build a European Knowledge Based Bio-Economy (KBBE). The scope of this programme includes energy, since it addresses the cultivation and use of biomass as well as energy efficiency in the agricultural sector.

FP7 Cooperation – Security

FP7 Security focuses on increasing the security of citizens, infrastructure and utilities. Security-related research also contributes to developing technologies and capabilities in support of other European Community policies in areas including energy. Energy research under FP7 Security includes, for example, the analysis of security in infrastructure (including energy networks).

FP7 Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs)

Transnational co-operation is promoted within the framework of FP7 through JTIs. JTIs are long-term public-private partnerships that promote research supported by a combination of private (or national) and European funding. In line with the Cooperation Programme, the following energy-related JTIs have been set up:

  • Fuel Cells and Hydrogen (FCH) – part of the SET-Plan Industrial Initiatives, this aims to develop and commercialise hydrogen technologies and fuel cells (€840 million) ;
  • Aeronautics and Air Transport (Clean Sky) – promotes the development of environmentally-friendly aircraft (€1 600 million); and
  • Embedded Computing Systems (ARTEMIS) – aims to reinforce EU leadership in embedded computing systems (€2 700 million).

FP7 Euratom – Nuclear Fission and Radiation Protection

The objectives of the FP7 Euratom thematic area of Nuclear Fission and Radiation Protection are to:

  • establish a sound scientific and technical basis to accelerate practical developments for the safer management of long-lived radioactive waste;
  • enhance the safety performance, resource efficiency and cost-effectiveness of nuclear energy;
  • ensure a robust and socially acceptable system of protection of man and the environment against the effects of ionising radiation.

FP7 Euratom – Fusion Energy Research

 The objectives of the FP7 Euratom thematic area of Fusion Energy Research are to:

  • develop the knowledge base for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER);
  • make ITER a major step towards the creation of prototype reactors for power stations that are safe, sustainable, environmentally responsible and economically viable.

Other relevant energy research programmes at European level are described below.


The objective of the ERA-NET scheme is to step up co-operation and co-ordination in research activities carried out at national or regional levels in Member States and Associated States through the networking of research activities conducted at national or regional level.

The scheme contributes to making a reality of the European Research Area (ERA) by improving the coherence and coordination of research programmes across Europe. It also aims to enable national systems to take on tasks collectively that they would not have been able to tackle independently.

The main active ERA-NETs for the Thematic Priority Energy are ERA-NET Bioenergy (BIOENERGY), Initiative for Fossil Energy Technologies towards Zero Emission Power Plant (FENCO-NET), Networking and Integration of National and Regional Programmes in the Field of Photovoltaic Solar Energy (PV-ERANET 2) and Geothermal ERA-NET.

ERA-NETs are linked to FP7, not as a stand-alone programme but as an implementation tool that is used mainly in the context of the specific programme Coordination. In this context, ERA-Nets are implemented by national and regional authorities and the European Commission supports the research activities by providing a co-ordination framework.

The total budget of the energy-related projects co-ordinated by ERA-NETs reached around €194 billion in the period 2004–2012. This funding was provided mainly by national sources.

European Technology Platforms

The European Technology Platforms (ETPs) are established as industry-led initiatives with the aim of bringing together all relevant stakeholders to develop a strategy for leading technologies. ETPs are not funding programmes but define research objectives and roadmaps with a medium- to long-term horizon. The overall objective is to create synergies among the different research actors, which apart from industry also include public authorities, research institutions, the financial community and civil society. Individual ETPs have been developed in the areas of Biofuels, Smart Grids, Wind Energy, Photovoltaics, Zero Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants, Sustainable Nuclear Energy, and Renewable Heating and Cooling.

ETPs provide a more stable co-operation framework at the sectoral level. Specifically, ETPs are led by industry and the aim is to define research priorities in areas that will require major technological developments in the medium to long term. ETPs are established through dialogue among national government representatives and public and industry researchers, which fosters the development of effective public-private partnerships.

Research Fund for Coal and Steel (RFCS)

The Research Fund for Coal and Steel supplements the Seventh Framework Programme by supporting research in steel- and coal-related areas. It generates revenues from the assets of the European Coal and Steel Community, which were transferred to the European Union in 2002.

The projects financed by RFCS cover several energy-related topics in the areas of production processes and reduction of CO2 emissions. The use of coal as a clean energy source is also included in the scope of this research programme. The programme distributes total financing of approximately €55 million per year, of which an estimated €27 million is for energy research.

RFCS complements FP7 but is managed separately. RFCS is managed by the European Commission, the Coal and Steel Committee (COSCO), the Coal and Steel Advisory Groups (CAG, SAG) and 12 Technical Groups. RFCS supports research in the coal and steel sectors, a significant amount of which is related to energy.

European Energy Programme for Recovery (EEPR)

The European Energy Programme for Recovery (EEPR) was set up in 2009 to speed up investment in energy infrastructure and technology and to boost economic recovery in Europe. EEPR is managed by DG ENER and co-finances energy projects to make energy supply in the EU more reliable and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. EEPR funds projects in three main areas:

  • Gas and electricity infrastructure – supports activities in gas interconnectors, reverse flow gas projects, electricity interconnectors and small island projects;
  • Offshore wind energy (OWE) – promotes the development of large-scale OWE projects, including the grid integration of wind;
  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS) – supports CCS pilot projects in the EU.

In 2011 as part of EEPR, the European Energy Efficiency Fund (EEE-F) was established to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The Fund was initiated by the European Commission in co-operation with the European Investment Bank. The EEPR is relevant to energy research insofar as its sub-programmes for CCS and OWE contribute to financing innovative demonstration projects (see EEPR). EEPR was introduced as a key element of economic recovery from the effects of the financial crisis. The total budget for the two sub-programmes is €1 565 million. Commitments had to be made by the end of 2010.

Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP)

The Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) supports innovation activities and provides better access to finance with the aim of enhancing the competitiveness of EU businesses, in particular SMEs. The CIP has three operational programmes, namely the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme (EIP), the ICT Policy Support Programme (ICT PSP), and the Intelligent Energy Europe programme (IEE).

CIP / Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme

This programme seeks to support innovation in SMEs. The Eco-innovation initiative in particular aims to promote innovative products, processes and services which would lower the environmental impact of the economy. Although Eco-innovation does not address energy directly, projects are funded that relate indirectly to energy saving, energy efficiency etc. The initiative funds pilot and market replication projects as well as networks of national and regional actors. EIP has an overall budget of €2 166 million for the period 2007–2013. It is managed by the Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry (DG ENTR) in conjunction with the Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN). Eco-innovation is managed by DG ENV.

CIP / Information and Communication Technologies Policy Support Programme (ICT PSP)

ICT PSP aims to stimulate innovation and competitiveness through the wider uptake and best use of ICT by citizens, governments and businesses, in particular SMEs. ICT PSP has funded several ICT projects for a low-carbon economy and smart mobility, in particular for energy efficiency. The programme has a budget of €728 million (2007–2013) and is managed by the Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG Connect).

CIP / Intelligent Energy Europe (IEE)

The IEE focuses solely on energy-related issues and supports organisations in three main themes, which also form the key funding areas of the programme:

  • Energy efficiency and the rational use of energy (SAVE) – focuses mainly on industry, products and buildings;
  • New and renewable resources (ALTENER) – aims to increase the share of renewable sources in the production of electricity, heat and cooling; and
  • Energy in transport (STEER) – seeks to achieve energy savings in the transport sector.

IEE also supports integrated projects in several economic sectors in the areas of energy efficiency and renewable resources. The budget is €727 million for the period 2007-2013. IEE is mainly managed by the Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation (EACI).


LIFE+ runs from 2007 to 2013 and is the current phase of a series of programmes first introduced in 1992. It funds both private and public bodies registered in the EU and covers mainly demonstration projects on a wide range of environmental topics including energy and climate. The specific energy-related areas include energy production and distribution, renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency in areas such as industry, services, buildings, transport, lighting and equipment, as well as the reduction of greenhouse gases. The total budget of the programme is €2 143 million.


NER300 is a financing instrument managed jointly by the European Commission, the European Investment Bank and Member States to set aside 300 million CO2 emission allowances for subsidising installations of innovative renewable energy technology and CCS. The first proposals were received in May 2011 and the second call took place in April 2013. Along with CCS, the categories of renewable energy technology that are eligible for support are biofuels, concentrated solar power, solar photovoltaic, geothermal, wind, ocean, hydropower, and the grid integration of renewable electricity capacity. These categories have been split further into up to nine subcategories, each containing a topic eligible for funding. In December 2012 the European Commission made a funding award of more than €1.2 billion for 23 highly innovative renewable energy demonstration projects. Again, it is the RD&D elements of such projects that are of interest from a research perspective.

Horizon 2020


The Europe 2020 strategy identified research and innovation as being central to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. As of 2014, FP7 will be replaced by the new Framework Programme called Horizon 2020. Horizon 2020 will help to tackle the challenge of climate change, for example through investment in renewable energy research, while creating industrial leadership in Europe and increasing excellence in the science base. Horizon 2020 includes a full range of support integrated across the research and development cycle.

Horizon 2020 will run from 2014 to 2020. It combines and strengthens activities currently funded under the Seventh Framework Programme, the innovation parts of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme and the new European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

Table 2: Indicative breakdown of Horizon 2020.

The priority areas to be addressed under the heading ‘Secure, Clean and Efficient Energy’ are:

  • Reducing energy consumption and carbon footprint through smart and sustainable usage;
  • Low-cost, low-carbon electricity supply;
  • Alternative fuels and mobile energy sources;
  • A single, smart European electricity grid;
  • New knowledge and technologies;
  • Robust decision-making and public engagement;
  • Market uptake of energy innovations, empowering markets and consumers; and
  • Specific implementation aspects.

Horizon 2020

European Comission Directorates:


Directorate-General for Energy (DG ENER)

DG ENER is responsible for developing and implementing a European energy policy. The DG supports the Europe 2020 programme which, for energy, is outlined in the Energy 2020 strategy. Apart from developing policies for the energy sector, DG ENER aims to facilitate energy technology innovation by supporting energy research and demonstration projects through European Framework Programmes such as FP7, EEPR and Horizon 2020.

Joint Research Centre (JRC)

JRC is the scientific and technical arm of the European Commission. It provides the scientific advice and technical knowledge to support a wide range of EU policies including energy. JRC has seven scientific institutes, one of which is the Institute for Energy and Transport (IET). The IET focuses on technology innovation to ensure sustainable, safe, secure and efficient energy production, distribution and use.

Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD)

DG RTD’s mission is to develop and implement the European research and innovation policy with a view to achieving the goals of Europe 2020 and the Innovation Union. DG RTD supports research and innovation through European Framework Programmes such as FP7 and Horizon 2020, co-ordinates and supports national and regional research and innovation programmes, contributes to the creation of the European Research Area by developing the conditions for researchers and knowledge to circulate freely, and supports European organisations and researchers in their co-operation at international level.

Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENV)

The objective of DG ENV is to protect, preserve and improve the environment for present and future generations. To achieve this DG ENV proposes policies to ensure a high level of environmental protection in the EU and ensures that Member States correctly apply EU environmental law. The DG also finances projects that contribute to environmental protection in the EU through the LIFE+ programme, part of which relates to energy issues.

Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry (DG ENTR)

DG ENTR has the mission to promote a growth-friendly framework for European enterprises. It has a key role in the Europe 2020 agenda of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. One of the objectives of the DG is to support research and innovative applications in industry.

European research programme managment agencies


Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation (EACI)

EACI is one of six Executive Agencies that have been established to help the Commission manage EU programmes more efficiently. EACI manages the Eco-innovation and Intelligent Energy Europe programmes; as well as the Marco Polo programme, which supports projects aiming to take freight transport off the roads; and the Enterprise Europe Network.

European Research Council Executive Agency (ERCEA)

ERCEA is another Executive Agency and part of the EU’s Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7) in relation to the FP7 IDEAS specific programme. ERCEA performs several tasks including implementing calls for proposals and organising peer review of research.

Research Executive Agency (REA)

REA is one of the European Commission Executive Agencies. The key role of REA is to evaluate proposals and manage projects, mainly in the context of the current FP7 research framework programme. Further REA manages the Marie Curie fellowships and acts as a ‘one-stop shop’ helpdesk for enquiries about FP7.