EERA (European Energy Research Alliance) has been a key stakeholder since the early days of the SET Plan. It filled a gap in the EU’s energy research and innovation ecosystem, bringing national research efforts on board; a vital component in fulfilling the SET Plan vision and objectives. How do you see the evolution of EERA over the last decade? What are the main challenges it has faced in aligning and consolidating national research activities in support of the SET Plan priorities?
EERA started in 2008, one year after the SET Plan launch, and we have supported the SET Plan roadmap and activities since the very beginning. Our mission is "Co-ordinating energy research for a low carbon Europe". This captures very well what we are committed to achieving: joint programming for low carbon energy research in Europe. Our association is a unique partnership, bringing together more than 55,000 people working in research. We have grown from 10 founding organisations in 2008 to over 175 energy research institutions active in 27 European countries, developing and consolidating a community which is unique in its kind. I am not aware of any organisation with a similar critical mass and depth that focuses on low carbon energy R&D on a global scale. Our 17 Joint Programmes (JPs) bring together the best researchers across energy fields in Europe, sharing knowledge and enjoying the "open science" approach by cross-fertilisation. This is a success in itself, enabled by the SET Plan.
Much of the R&D performed at national level is of a pre-competitive nature and can be shared through our networks. EERA contributes to this flow of knowledge concretely through its JPs, thus adding value, to mobilise resources towards joint results. This is complex: over the course of our journey we have developed a framework which enables us to work more efficiently by establishing the legal entity EERA AISBL (in French: “Association Internationale Sans but Lucratif", i.e. International Non-Profit Organisation). The AISBLE is headed by a Secretary General and has dedicated staff. During this process we had valuable support from the European Commission, both through our strategic communication and interaction, and through the opportunity to foster European mobilisation of energy research. Activities supported by the European Common Research and Innovation Agendas (ECRIAs) and Integrated Research Programme (IRP) projects in Horizon 2020 and FP7 have been key. This kind of support gives national efforts sizeable leverage and provides added European value.
Despite the progress achieved in pursuing the EERA mission, many are still sceptical about its achievements and its contribution to the progress of the SET Plan. Would the SET Plan have achieved much without EERA?
It is very difficult to draw conclusions based on scenarios which have not happened. I think the SET Plan is instrumental in enabling Europe to reach its targets, i.e. to provide affordable clean energy to all citizens. As Europe´s energy systems are quite heterogeneous, the SET Plan allows Europe to mould its energy system for the future.
As the research pillar of the SET Plan, EERA has worked with industry, decision-makers and other stakeholders to defragment research and innovation (R&I) in Europe, gathering world class expertise and resources in energy. Our JPs have also supported bottom-up alignment of R&I priorities, coordinating the agendas and activities of members across Europe. For example, the Joint Programme Nuclear Materials has developed a labelling process as a key priority of the research community and industry, avoiding the submission of multiple competing proposals to EU funding agencies. This allows the research community to work on activities that represent a real convergence and alignment of national programmes, based on industry needs and in line with SET Plan objectives.
The EERA community has also contributed to lowering the cost of renewables - through national and EU projects - and has supported the SET Plan roadmap throughout.
Over recent months, our Joint Programmes have made instrumental contributions to the SET Plan Temporary Working Groups, covering all ten SET Plan key actions.
Our work focuses on research and we have been working with companies, European Technology and Innovation Platforms (ETIPs) and other industry organisations to support R&I along the value chain. A good example of our cooperation with industry is the recent Energy Storage Technology Development Roadmap, released jointly by the EERA Joint Programme on Energy Storage and EASE (the European Association for Storage of Energy), which identifies priorities and actions to support the energy storage sector in Europe. This is very useful in times when the importance of battery capabilities is much debated.
The SET Plan is entering its most important phase now – executing the implementation of its 10 Actions. What challenges do you see, and how can EERA contribute not only to its execution, but also to forging the required cooperation across and throughout the SET Plan community?
This is a huge task: trying to achieve so much with limited control and resources at hand. EERA can contribute to the implementation of the SET Plan by gathering European players to address R&I actions, through a variable geometry of national teams and funds topped up by EU funding through Horizon 2020 and the next EU Framework Programme. This can be achieved through the support of dedicated concerted actions such as can be seen with European Common Research and Innovation Agendas (ECRIA) and Integrated Research Programmes (IRP). This can help to consolidate the existing activities of JPs and to develop new ones, for example on technology transfer, mobility, international cooperation and open data. However, for these to be successful, it is essential that we work together with governments, industry and the wider research community. In this respect, we strongly encourage our Joint Programmes to support SET Plan implementation through the Temporary Working Groups, together with industry and under the lead of national governments. We are also campaigning for the establishment of European Centres of Excellence in energy research, based on national centres or clusters, with added value created by the framework programmes. This will provide strong leverage and will help to promote key European assets in energy, now and in the future. For instance, why not create a European Centre of Excellence on energy storage to support national initiatives through coordinated action at European level? This is one example of how additional contributions can have huge multiplier effects. EERA is in itself an excellent example of such an effort in energy research, guided by the SET Plan.
Dr. Nils A. Røkke
Chairman of the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA)
Executive Vice President Sustainability in SINTEF, Scandinavia’s largest R&D Institute. Member of the management board of SINTEF. PhD in combustion from NTH (NTNU). Since May 2017 Chairman of EERA- the European Energy Research Alliance.
Gas Turbine Design and Development Manager in Rolls Royce Marine before returning to SINTEF in 2002 as Vice President Gas Technologies and Director of the Gas Technology Centre NTNU-SINTEF. Member of the European ZEP (zero emission power) Advisory Council, Co-chair of the Executive Committee of ZEP and member of the Divisional Board (Energy, Resources and Environment) of the Norwegian Research Council (RCN). Board member of the Norwegian Climate Foundation. Chair of ECCSEL (European CCS Labs) an energy ESFRI lab.