Monday, July 25, 2011

Support the spreading of intelligence - key to the success of the low carbon revolution

The Intelligent Energy Europe programme of the European Union is due to be abolished in the coming budget round. But its valuable work must somehow be allowed to continue.

Buried away on page 18 of a dry-seeming document published by the European Parliament three weeks ago - Pro posal for a Council decision on the system of own resources of the European Union - is the following sentence: "The Commission proposes to establish a dedicated 'Competitiveness and SMEs Programme' as a successor to the non-innovation part of the current "Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme" (CIP)."

The document in question is part of the EU's budget proposals for 2014-2020, the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF).

The sentence proposes that a new Common Strategic Framework for Research and Innovation (CSF) will merge together three funding strands that are familiar to, if not even dear to, many readers' hearts, because they have helped fund many innovative projects: the 7th Framework Programme (FP7); the innovation part of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP); and the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT).

In one sense this merger is a Good Thing, in that it will simplify the over-complex system of hoops through which applicants for funding have to squeeze their projects.

But it has one unfortunate consequence. The loss of the Intelligent Energy Europe programme (IEE), which has been and will be worth worth a total of € 730 million for the period 2007-2013 and which so far has delivered exceptional value for money by harnessing the enthusiasm of dedicated experts to spread their knowledge and inspire others.

Over the years, the IEE Programme has supported the creation of hundreds of local and regional energy agencies, co-financed hundreds of local innovative projects, supported initiatives like ManagEnergy, European Sustainable Energy Week and the Covenant of Mayors - to which 30 UK cities belong - and been party to finance streams like ELENA-EIB that has unlocked €1.6 billion in investment.

One British organisation which has recently received a grant from this is the Severn Wye Energy Agency Ltd. Its Bio-methane Regions project is designed to promote anaerobic digestion (AD) and biogas upgrading technology, along with the vital development of markets for the resulting biomethane - for grid injection and vehicle usage - and for the fertiliser outputs.

Another beneficiary is the ECO Stars project that is currently being implemented in Devon. This rewards car fleets for being 'green' and replicates a similar successful scheme that was run in South Yorkshire and which supported more than 30 operators with over 5,500 vehicles. It trains fleet owners in things like fuel management, driver skills, vehicle specification and maintenance, use of IT support systems and performance monitoring, all of which reduce fuel use and carbon emissions.

Cardiff University is another recipient of funding, for a programme to inspect HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning) systems through continuous monitoring and benchmarking. And the Town and Country Planning Association has received funding for training people in leadership for energy action and planning.

All in all, this year across Europe, 44 projects are receiving a share of nearly €58 million in similar, humble, detailed and sector-specific projects on energy efficiency that don't make headlines but are just the sort of methodical skill-spreading initiatives that are essential if we are to embed the low carbon revolution into everyday business life.

Yet, the IEE is to be abolished - and replaced not with anything similar, but with something called the 'LIFE+ Climate Sub-programme'. This is intended to support "the exchange of best practices, capacity building and pilot projects focused on climate change mitigation and adaptation and governance" in SMEs.

But intelligent energy is not a subset of climate action. It is an essential activity in its own right that is precisely focussed in ways that mitigation and adaptation are not.

If the IEE is abolished, it will be left to European Member States acting alone to finance IEE-like programmes at national level.

According to the network Energy Cities, which includes as members four UK cities - Newcastle, Leicester, Milton Keynes and Sutton - intelligent energy is "a self-contained issue of utmost importance, especially in a time when the energy debate is re-launched in Europe and will require very innovative solutions".

Energy Cities believes that even if European states decide to implement such programmes, the "added value of networking and exchange of experiences" at a pan-European level and the knock-on benefits of such concrete kinds of energy efficiency awareness-raising in the lives of trainee workers would disappear.

As they put it: "No more inspiration coming from another country, no more exchange of ideas – the Member States would start again ‘reinventing the wheel’!"

Energy Cities, which is to publish a paper on the EU Multi-annual Financial Framework in a few weeks, is calling for the IEE to be maintained and revamped to support "innovative and new solutions" in the field of energy efficiency and renewables at the sectoral level in Europe.

I have seen a similar 'rationalisation' process in the past in the UK lose the value of vital, very particular, experience at grass-roots industrial level before. This was when the Carbon Trust was set up and assimilated the previous work of the Action Energy programme and the Energy Efficiency Best Practice Programme.

These were Defra-supported activities that Energy and Environmental Magazine regularly reported on in the '90s and early 'noughties. Representatives of these programmes sat on our editorial board and the magazine spread awareness of the best practice activities in hundreds of extremely specific business and industrial applications.

The Carbon Trust was not interested in such minute interventions. Instead its focus was on corporate boards. All the EEBPP's accumulated work was archived and gradually faded into obsolescence.

We all know the truisms "the devil is in the detail", and "if you look after the pennies, the pounds look after themselves". In energy terms, 'watts' = 'pennies' and 'megawatts' = 'pounds'.

It would be an own goal if Europe lost the Intelligent Energy Europe programme and its valuable experience. It needs to find a way to continue its useful, if modest, work.

No comments: