Background to the EPUE initiative
At the Belgian EU Presidency Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-PLAN) Conference on 15 November 2010, the European University Association announced its intention to develop a European Platform of Universities Engaged in Energy Research, Education and Training (EPUE), Professor Torbjørn Digernes (Rector, Norwegian University of Science and Technology) announced that EPUE’s main task would be “to provide a strong ‘single’ voice for Europe’s universities in EU energy research by establishing a platform to facilitate the full participation of competitive European universities and their networks in achieving the goal of the SET-PLAN for a low carbon emission energy future”. He emphasised that “for the successful realisation of EU energy policy goals, European universities’ strengths in fundamental research and training capacity for new skills development required by the energy sector must be tapped through EU research strategies”.
EPUE is being developed by EUA while involved as an observer within the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA) of the EU SET-PLAN. In October 2008, ten major National Research Institutes founded the European Energy Research Alliance. The key objective of EERA was to accelerate research on the development of new energy technologies in support of the EU Strategic Energy Technology (SET) plan by conceiving and implementing ‘joint research programmes’ which seek to pool resources and overcome fragmentation of research efforts and integrate activities at national and European levels. EUA was invited to join the EERA Executive committee as an observer member by the European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation.
EUA’s decision to participate in the EERA initiative was based essentially upon the recognition that it represented a pilot of a new type of European policy instrument under development – that of ‘joint programming’ – and that Europe’s universities could not afford to be outside the learning process. In the case of EERA, where national research institutes for energy research were taking the lead, there was a real risk that universities would be regarded as secondary partners. The major task for EUA was to demonstrate that university-based research and, importantly, postgraduate training programmes (at Master and Doctoral levels), and the uniqueness of university interdisciplinary research environments, were key elements in tackling the ‘grand challenge’ of achieving a sustainable energy supply and usage.
On 30 March 2009 EUA convened a meeting to discuss how to maximise its role within EERA for the benefit of Europe’s universities. The meeting was chaired by Professor Helena Nazaré (member of the EUA Board and Research Policy Working Group) who served as the EUA member of the EERA Executive Committee. This meeting was attended by senior scientists nominated as representatives by national rectors’ conferences in 18 countries. The main outcome of the discussions was the recommendation that, to focus and shape its role in this European initiative further, EUA should establish a small Steering Group chaired by Professor Nazaré to develop a profile for EUA in EERA and to provide Professor Nazaré with expert advice and support in her role as EUA representative on the EERA Executive Committee.
The EPUE Steering Group has met regularly since June 2009. The main task of the Steering Group has been to design a survey questionnaire which has been sent to the EUA university membership and which seeks to achieve an initial mapping of university research and training capacity in the energy field. The EPUE questionnaire was distributed in late November 2009 and all those universities who have completed the survey questionnaire have indicated their strong interest to participate in the initiative to create a European Platform of Universities Engaged in Energy Research, Education and Training.
EUA Council has reviewed regularly the progress of EUA’s involvement in EERA and provided input and advice on its efforts to build a European Platform of Universities engaged in Energy Research, Education and Training. At its March 2010 meeting, Council appointed EUA Research Policy Working Group member, Professor Torbjørn Digernes (Rector, Norwegian University of Science and Technology), to serve as the EUA observer on the EERA Executive Committee and as Chairman of the EPUE Steering Group to succeed Professor Helena Nazaré.
The EPUE Steering Group has maintained a regular dialogue with European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. The Steering Group has also advised on EUA’s response to the relevant EC public consultations in relation to future EU energy research priorities. In July 2010, EUA responded to the European Commission public consultation on its communication “Towards a new Energy Strategy for Europe, 2011-2020” (EUA Contribution to Public Consultation). EUA's submission made it clear that Europe’s universities should have a recognised and distinct role to play in the forthcoming new EU Energy Strategy. University research and training environments foster innovation with their potential for interdisciplinary approaches, particularly through collaborative research projects with external industry partners. Europe’s universities have the capacity both to develop new skills by providing specialised education that encourages entrepreneurial skills and approaches to the development of new energy technologies and markets, and to conduct ‘frontier’ basic research addressing long-term energy perspectives.
In relation to the latter issue, the EPUE Steering Group also advised on the EUA response in March 2011 to the public consultation on the “Energy Roadmap 2050” launched by EC Directorate-General for Energy.