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Climate change and the energy crisis make the update of the European Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan mandatory to urgently align it with the new political context
We live in unprecedented times. Never have we seen so many entangled systemic crises at once; climate change looming upon us (and the European continent warming at more than twice the global average, as a UN report warned recently), energy prices skyrocketing owing to the global energy market disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, double-digit inflation and increasingly unstable financial markets with adverse implications for the real economy. Increased efforts in R&I for clean energy solutions and enhanced cooperation amongst its main stakeholders are at the centre of the EU efforts to cope with these complexities and accelerate the energy transition. This is where the revision of the European Strategic Energy Technolog (SET) Plan comes into play to update one of the pivotal endeavours to coordinate energy technology policy for Europe since its adoption in 2008. The SET Plan must be revised to fit the new political context and assist in reaching the Fit for 55 targets and supporting the REPowerEU Plan through stronger synergies between national, industrial and European energy R&I efforts.
Since its promulgation 14 years ago, the SET Plan has established the overall framework for promoting strengthened cooperation in R&I between the EU, Member States and its research and industry sectors to step up the efforts to bring new, efficient and cost-competitive low-carbon technologies faster to the market and deliver the energy transition in a cost-competitive way. Over the last year, the European Commission (EC) has gathered opinions and ideas from the entire SET Plan Community to review the objectives, governance, scope, and activities of the Plan. These findings fed into the 16th SET Plan Conference, “Towards a new Strategic Energy Technology Plan”, hosted in Prague under the auspices of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU. The conference explored the transformational pathways to sustainable, secure, resilient and competitive energy systems and value chains. It also raised awareness among all its stakeholders on the latest R&I in the field of carbon-neutral energy technologies.
The SET Plan has created over time several structures to support its mission. Amongst these are the Implementation Working Groups (IWG), clusters of industrial and research stakeholders tasked to advance the respective Implementation Plans (IP) – high-level instruments developed around specific energy technologies. Another crucial structure is the European Technology and Innovation Platforms (ETIPs), created to support the implementation of the SET Plan by bringing together EU countries, industries, and researchers in key areas. They promote the market uptake of key energy technologies by pooling funding, skills, and research facilities. Amongst these is the ETIP for Smart Networks for Energy Transition (SNET) that support the IWG for Energy System (IWG4) by bringing together a multitude of stakeholders and experts from the energy sector to guide RD&I in support of Europe’s energy transition.
The ETIP SNET has been pivotal in the creation of the ETIPs FORUM, an initiative born in June 2021 to develop a stable and structured dialogue among the 10 ETIPs and assimilated entities to avoid overlappings and duplications and to share the know-how and expertise of the numerous experts involved in all the ETIPs towards the same decarbonisation goal and mission by 2030 and 2050. The initiative has been praised by the European Commission, which joined the latest meeting held in October at the premises of one of the ETIPs FORUM’s partners, the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA), through the Directorate-General for Energy, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, and the Joint Research Centre.
Ahead of the SET Plan’s revision, the ETIPs FORUM drafted 8 recommendations and policy paper to inform the EC and other stakeholders involved in the process about the ETIPs’ common position regarding the SET Plan implementation and recommend possible pathways for a more efficient and inclusive execution of the planned actions. These recommendations have been submitted to the public consultation the EC opened concerning the SET Plan revision and were brought to the SET Plan Conference.
Most of these recommendations were in line with many of the overarching findings of the SET Plan Conference, although the idiosyncratic contribution of the ETIPs FORUMS was to stress the need for better coordination amongst each IWG and the respective ETIP to align their overarching goals and objectives, with clear mission-oriented approaches to reach impacts and to be adopted by all involved actors. Moreover, the recommendations called for a clearer governance structure, more transparent and streamlined processes, and a revision of the stakeholders involved and their roles and responsibilities.
On the other hand, all speakers at the conference agreed on the exigency for stronger synergies between national, industrial and European energy R&I efforts, hence restating the role of the National Energy Climate Plans (NECPs), as well as the need for the revised SET Plan to encapsulate cross-cutting topics such as digitalisation, storage, smart grids, clean hydrogen, and social innovation. Moreover, the revision process of the SET Plan must be conducted within the broader context of the new European Innovation Agenda and the new European Research Area (ERA), and in connection with the newly established European Partnerships, in particular the Clean Energy Transition Partnership (CETP) fostering transnational innovation ecosystems from the local and regional level, up to the transnational European level, thus overcoming a fragmented European landscape, must be enhanced and aligned.
Through these changes, it will be possible to unlock the potential of new technologies and processes with direct benefits for all citizens, bringing about their transformation from informed consumers into active prosumers engaged in service co-creation, “owners” and key contributors of the energy system and transformative actors at the forefront of the energy transition. These efforts will ensure that Europe will remain at the vanguard of global energy research and innovation.
The official communication following the SET Plan conference will be published by the EC in January next year, following which a new meeting between the ETIPs FORUM and EC will be held.
Zabala innovation is the coordinator of the Secretariat that daily supports the ETIP SNET and its sibling initiative BRIDGE, which unites Horizon 2020 & Horizon Europe Smart Grid, Energy Storage, Islands, and Digitalisation Projects to create a structured view of cross-cutting issues encountered in the demonstration projects and may constitute an obstacle to innovation. The Secretariat supports the initiatives’ activities and manages – under the guidance of the EC – around 650 stakeholders from industries, research centres and universities in identifying R&I needs, obstacles and opportunities toward energy transition.
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