Developing Technologies for Zero-Carbon Economies

By Nils Røkke
TRONDHEIM, Norway, Jun 11 2019 – Never before has half a degree (0.5C) meant so much for humanity. We are behaving as if we have time to deal with climate change. We don’t. The main problem is that we believe we must sacrifice growth and prosperity for the sake of decarbonisation. We don’t.

Increase investments

We can decarbonise the economy and create jobs and growth. In Europe, this requires that member states increase investments in energy research and renewable energy technologies.

Europe can take the lead by investing in research and reviewing regulations, making sustainability a competitive advantage. The public and the private sector need to work together to quickly prototype technologies and then scale the pilots.

This requires research and innovation incentives. To show the effect of these approaches, I would like to point out a few concrete examples.

To increase investments in research in Europe, research institutes, the public and the private sector need to link national funding to EU programs. Existing research funding needs to be spent more wisely.

Nils Røkke

Simultaneously the public and the private sector need to plan, work and evaluate projects like real partners. I am certain that this will incentivize and accelerate climate-friendly and market-worthy businesses and ideas.

One example of an effective public-private partnership is the Norwegian government’s support of research facilities for carbon capture and storage at multiple locations for multiple industries. This includes Norcem’s cement plant in Breivik and the recycling of energy from a waste incineration plant at Klementsrud in Oslo.

Leveraging public-private partnerships

The Norwegian government has understood that to balance its national carbon budget, the public sector needs to support private industry. Proof that this approach works is the first full-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) solution to be implemented at a cement factory, in Brevik, Norway.

Government supported schemes for capacity building, research and innovation has underpinned this development and planned deployment. This has also included projects operating under the EU Framework programs for research from FP6 to Horizon 2020. We need more solutions that are sustainable, effective and realistic by 2030. Which means we also need more public-private partnership.

Regulating change

At the same time, countries can regulate to ensure that sustainable operations become a competitive advantage and that sustainable technologies is rapidly deployed and adopted. A clear example from industry is the Europe-wide market for carbon quotas.

Requiring companies to pay for their emissions incentivizes them to find the most innovative and effective ways to reduce their emissions. The companies that can reduce emissions in the most cost-effective way will in turn become more competitive. The companies that change will capture market share and grow.

Regulations are also an incredibly efficient way to affect consumer and market behaviour, and thereby which technologies are sold, profitable and further improved. A common example of this is the Norwegian government’s approach to regulating the personal vehicle market.

Electric vehicles are exempt from many taxes and fees in Norway, which makes them very appealing when compared to vehicles with internal combustion engines. All of these incentives have made a significant impact on consumers adopting electric vehicles.

In March 2019 Norway actually became the first country in the world to sell more electric vehicles than internal combustion vehicles.

Incentivising energy research

Increasing funds for energy research and affecting behaviour through regulation are important for change, but full-scale pilot projects will only scale when energy research itself is incentivized. No one single technology or system can tackle our transition to a zero-emission society.

Each country must therefore consider the tools at their disposal to incentivise research into technologies for renewable energy. This was the backdrop for establishing the Mission Innovation initiative (MI) that was launched at the COP21 in Paris. Why is only 1.8% of public research and development funding invested in clean energy when clean energy is one of the most important ways to achieve climate neutrality?

The Mission Innovation initiative aims to double the investment into clean energy to trigger more investment from the private sector. After all, public money cannot solve this challenge alone.

Countries need to work together. At EERA, we work hard to ensure that we facilitate cooperation to the greatest possible extent. One concrete project I would like to draw attention to is the Joint Programme for Concentrated Solar Power (JP CSP).

Fostering knowledge and technology transfer from advanced European research to the most promising areas for solar thermal energy is the key aim of the international cooperation strategy of the program.

Within the framework of the EU funded Integrated Research Programme STAGE-STE, the JP CSP has successfully integrated partners from four continents – from Australia to Chile, Brazil, Mexico, India, China, as well as from MENA countries like Libya, Morocco and Saudi Arabia – in its research community, gathering all the key research institutions working on CSP and solar thermal energy.

The EU can always do more. One concrete recommendation I would like to give as Executive Vice President of Sustainability at SINTEF and Chair of EERA is to increase the budget for the next Horizon Europe research program. The initial suggestion of 100 billion EUR should instead be expanded to 120 billion.

We need the budgetary room so that we can fully pursue the ideas that make the most sense. Also, we need to be sure that the research we do fully permeates industry. Therefore, “Pillar Two” of Horizon Europe, the portion that connects the research with industrial opportunities, must be further strengthened.

There are many solutions and technologies that are required to generate the technologies and techniques for a more sustainable future. All countries and member states in Europe should increase their investments, regulate to ensure that sustainability becomes a competitive advantage, and incentivize research to realize as many solutions as possible.

Technology can keep us in the race to prevent global warming, jobs and economic growth. How can we ever overspend on that investment?

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