Most readers of the SETIS website will be familiar with EERA, but could you please say a few words about the Alliance, its members and how it contributes to the SET-Plan?
The idea of this alliance is to streamline ongoing R&D activities in different Member States. I see this as very important because we have to be able to increase our research impact with existing resources. The core of EERA consists of 15 top research and technology organisations (RTOs) from 15 EU Member States. However, EERA is willing to take on board all those organisations where there is a commitment and capability to contribute. Today, more than 150 different universities or RTOs are already involved as well as some 2000 researchers.
At the heart of EERA is a series of Joint Programmes for research in key renewable energy technologies. Could you say a few words about these?
There are 13 Joint Programmes currently running and others are in the preparation stages, some with more than 30 collaborating research institutions. Obviously, carbon-free energy production or conversion is the main goal, but it is important to have good coverage of a range of energy topics. There are a great many activities going on in the area of renewables, which is without any doubt one of the most important aspects of our future energy policy.
The main challenge so far has been to get the work on the right track. The impact of the joint effort will be seen in the near future. Even so, we have to understand the time needed to develop innovations and to publish research findings in top scientific journals.
What, so far, have been some of the other challenges of this kind of international collaborative research? And how have these been overcome?
Of course different organisations, especially when they are in different countries, have their own cultures and research agendas. Also, in some countries, research is very dependent on competitive funding. So it is not enough to get R&D organisations to agree to collaborate; we also have to get the funding agencies on board with us.
What are some of the particular strengths of European research on renewable energies, vis-à-vis some of the other leading world players? Are we particularly strong in some areas?
We have been able to achieve a cutting-edge position in many areas. One of these areas is third generation bio-liquids.
Funding is always an issue for innovative R&D, especially as much of Europe is going through a deep financial crisis. What does the future look like for research within EERA?
As a slogan I could say that we have to do more with less. And at the same time we have to increase the quality and impact of our research. The most important thing is to publish our research findings for the benefit of society. Of course Horizon 2020 will present important opportunities and EERA is keen to play an active role.
As Chairman of EERA and President/CEO of VTT you must have your finger on the pulse of the various SET-Plan technologies. How are we doing in terms of meeting the SET-Plan goals for 2020 and beyond? And what more is needed?
We will not be able to reach some of the targets. However, the technological prerequisites are there. And sometimes political decisions and policies are not oriented in the right direction. Meanwhile it is of the utmost importance to be able to develop and utilise a wide range of energy instruments.
How do you see the role of SETIS, as an information system for the SET-Plan?
SETIS plays an important role. It is extremely important to be able to find all the relevant information and avoid any unnecessary duplication.
European Commission teams up with businesses, environment groups and universities to promote low-carbon solutions
"We have a choice: We can act on our knowledge about climate change. Or we can sit idly by and watch as things get worse. Both options come with a price tag. So why not create a world we like, with a climate we like - while we still have time? With this campaign we want to focus the debate on the solutions and find out what is holding us back from applying them," said Connie Hedegaard.
Centred on a website which will soon be available in all EU languages, the campaign is designed as a platform for participation where individuals, businesses and local groups will be able to upload, promote and discuss their low-carbon solutions and take part in a pan-European contest to find the best and most original one.
The campaign will run until the end of 2013 and aims to showcase existing cost-efficient solutions for achieving the EU's objective of an 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
It is a follow-up to the Commission's "Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050" from March 2011, which sets out pathways for deep but cost-effective emission reductions by the main economic sectors. The Roadmap shows that building a low-carbon economy will increase investments in clean technologies and infrastructure such as smart electricity grids, and will drastically lower import bills for oil and gas.
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By learning the practicalities of installing and supporting a fleet of fuel cells with real customers and with the support of 24 utilities, housing providers and municipalities, ene.field is a flagship partnership towards commercialisation of micro FC-CHP installations.
The project will deploy approximately 1,000 residential installations in 12 EU Member States, establish the macro-economics and CO2 savings of the technologies in the European markets, and assess the socio-economic barriers to widespread deployment of micro FC-CHP.
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Biomass is the fourth most abundant energy resource after coal, oil and gas and already contributes over two-thirds of all renewable energy produced in the EU-27, when recycling of energy from waste is included. And, for many of the representatives attending the Biomass Power Generation 2012 conference in London, its share is certain to grow.
“It’s going to be a booming market,” said Christian Rakos, President of the European Pellet Council. With District Heating and Cooling generated from biomass, he said, “any supermarket or hotel could be heated with biomass, with a payback time on the investment of just three years. That’s really economically attractive.”
For Hans Dieter Hermes, Director of biomass business development for leading European energy company, Vattenfall, “biomass has to play a significant role in the energy mix in the future.” Biomass, he said, even when used to co-fire existing coal-fired power plants, “gives an immediate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.” A 70-80 % reduction in CO2 emissions, even taking into account the transportation of feedstock, is achievable when biomass is used, compared to a conventional coal-fired plant, claimed Christian Rakos, adding that, in Austria reductions of 90 % were being achieved. Biomass also has an advantage over intermittent renewable energy sources, such as solar photovoltaic (PV) and both onshore and offshore wind energy, in that it can provide stable baseload power, explained Hans Dieter Hermes. And, he added, because of their geography and climate, some countries are unable to generate significant amounts of energy from PV and wind, but may have abundant local sources of biomass.
As the proportion of biomass in the energy mix increases, the need for a secure and sustainable source of high quality feedstock becomes increasingly critical, not least to placate fears of environmentally detrimental changes in land use or loss of biodiversity. Not surprisingly, several speakers addressed this issue. Thomas Dalsgaard, Executive Vice President of DONG Energy Thermal Power, which is 76% owned by the Danish state, explained that, as the use of biomass expands, it is becoming less feasible to source feedstock locally. “We aim to source our biomass nearby, “ he said, “for example in Poland and Baltic states. But our suppliers are on short 1- or 3-year contracts.” And, as demand increases, “rather than importing wood pellets from North America, we are looking at using residuals from agricultural production and household waste – straw, fibres and sludge.” DONG has invested in what he claimed is the “world’s largest demonstration bio-refinery plant,” in Denmark.
One of the key issues holding back the development of biomass for power, explained Hans Dieter Hermes, is the absence of harmonised criteria for sustainability within Europe. “Now that biomass is internationally traded on a large scale and is no longer just locally sourced,” he said, “we need general acceptance of the criteria for sustainability before we invest on a large scale.” This is why, he explained, Vattenfall has signed its own agreement with the State of Berlin (Germany) regarding sustainability, CO2 reduction guarantees and the protection of biodiversity.
Marie Donnelly, Director of New and Renewable Sources of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Innovation in the European Commission’s Energy Directorate explained that the EC was proceeding with caution regarding European legislation. “Most electricity producers want harmonised regulation and so do feedstock suppliers and Member States,” she said, “so we are giving it careful consideration. We will know by the end of this year if we are going to go through with legislation or not.” But she added, “we would want a light touch with any legislation. A lot of biomass is sourced and produced locally and so is not traded. Legislation would probably not be applied to small producers.”
Another issue that came up at the conference was storage of highly combustible and potentially explosive feedstock, particularly wood pellets. David Dyson, Engineering Manager of the Tilbury B Power Station on the River Thames outside London, described the successful conversion of a late 1960’s 750 MW coal-fired power station to run on 100 % biomass, using sustainably sourced renewable wood pellets. After a fire at the power station, which delivers 10 % of the UK’s total renewable energy output, it was decided not to store pellets on site. Rather, the feedstock is taken directly from ships moored at the station’s quay. “We need a ship on site all the time, because each one only provides six hours of fuel storage. It has not failed so far.” Dyson explained that half of the investment for the conversion of the plant went on health and safety issues.
Other papers presented in the afternoon of the first day looked at worst and best case scenarios for pricing and availability of biomass pellets, some of the risks associated with biomass projects and how to mitigate them, and local, regional and global challenges from the feedstock suppliers’ point of view. The conference rounded off on the second day with a look at the potential for biomass combined with carbon capture and storage (Bio-CCS), the role of seaports in delivering solid biomass in Europe, storage issues and the economics and logistics of moving large volumes of biomass, agricultural and waste products for use in biomass power and heat generation facilities.
For further information and to access the conference presentations: