BRUSSELS - Europe has launched a campaign to triple funding for energy research to 8 billion euros ($11.7 billion) a year in a technology race with China, Japan and the United States, but said industry would have to pay the bulk.

We don't have much choice if we are serious with tackling climate change and remaining competitive, European research commissioner Janez Potocnik told reporters on Wednesday.

In January 2009, U.S. President Obama announced investment in renewable energy and China presented a recovery plan focused on clean technologies, he added. It is good news... however, it represents quite a challenge for the European position.

Solar power should get 16 billion euros over the next decade and up to 30 energy-cutting Smart Cities should be built with the backing of around 11 billion euros, said the European Union's executive, the European Commission.

The bulk of funds will certainly have to come from where the bulk of funds are -- the private sector and the European Union member states, said Potocnik.

Much of the money for the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan) will come from existing elements of the EU's complex web of funds. But at least 50 billion euros over the next 10 years would be additional financing.

It does not imply, at this stage, an increase in the European Union budget, but it is my firm belief this communication provides good reason to reinforce our common activities... when we decide on future development of the EU budget, said Potocnik.


Industry finances about 69 percent of non-nuclear energy research in the EU. But only 2-4 percent of the industry's overall investment is aimed at research, a quarter of the level in the information technology sector.

The plan aims to give the EU a full portfolio of energy technologies to help the bloc meet its goal of cutting greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2050.

The strategy also aims to wean the EU off its dependency on costly oil and gas for 80 percent of its energy needs.

Wind energy research should get 6 billion euros over the next decade, nuclear research should get 7 billion euros and energy from biomass and other waste 9 billion.

There should also be 13 billion euros for innovative carbon capture and storage technology to trap carbon dioxide from power stations and bury it underground.

The money will be backed with a major push to coordinate research and reverse a tradition of duplication and wasted academic effort among the EU's 27 nations.

Our study showed that in 2007, the overall public investment in research in non nuclear clean technologies was higher than in the U.S. in the same year -- but this does not translate into quality, said Potocnik.

We do spend more for less efficient results, and the reason seems to lie in the European Union's fragmentation of research, he added.
The SET Plan also envisions significant investment in hi-tech areas that are too risky to attract traditional sources of research funding.

Motor fuels direct from sunlight, digital light sources that last for decades, batteries that store electricity at ten times the current density -- these are some of the technologies of the future, says the report.

To master them we have to explore new levels of complexity in the physical and chemical phenomena that control how materials perform and interact, it added.

(Reporting by Pete Harrison)