14 JUNE 2016
FROM DISTRACTION TO ACTION FOR A BOLD EUROPEAN ENERGY UNION INNOVATION STRATEGY
Thomas Pellerin-Carlin | research fellow at the Jacques Delors Institute. Pierre Serkine | End-user Architect, KIC InnoEnergy.
Europe is at a crossroads. It faces a multifaceted crisis with rising distrust in representative democracy, doubts about the purpose of the European project, an urgency to tackle climate change, and a poisonous definition of competitiveness. In this context, the Energy Union Research Innovation and Competitiveness Strategy (EURICS) can kill three birds with one innovative stone: to boost its competitiveness, Europe should become the global provider of low-carbon solutions, an objective best achieved democratically - with citizens at the centre and in the driving seat of Innovation. This policy paper is therefore about Research and Innovation (R&I) in Europe. More precisely, it intends to bring new perspectives to the debate on EURICS, a strategy that should not be a distraction from policy choices but an action towards a faster, fairer and more democratic energy transition in Europe and the world. This paper argues that: • Europe needs a renewed approach to competitiveness and put innovation –rather than cost minimisation– at its core, to become the global provider of low-carbon solutions. Support to R&I must be legitimate in the eyes of citizens and thus requires a convincing narrative. Fighting climate change is consensual among Europeans, especially after the Paris Agreement, and can therefore ground a narrative guiding the EU R&I policy. • Innovation is much more than technology. EURICS thus needs to embrace all human and social aspects of how people produce, consume, use and maintain energy products and services. As energy is omnipresent in our daily life it should foster the appropriation of energy to transform NIMBYs into PIMBYs (please in my backyard), integrate social sciences as the cornerstone of innovation projects, valorise maintainers and promote frugal innovation. • To paraphrase Mariana Mazzucato, companies sometimes behave like pussycats fearful of change, rather than being innovative tigers bringing novelty into the market and people’s life. As the solutions for a carbon-neutral economy and energy system stem from public-private cooperation, EURICS should also seek to transform business pussycats into energy transition tigers. This notably involves to complete a cultural paradigm shift: demystify failure and unleash the entrepreneurship potential lying in researchers and employees. • In a post-Paris world, the EU must do more to support energy-climate research. It can for instance create the European Climate Energy Labs: an interdisciplinary basic and applied research centre based on a single location to foster the development of disruptive technologies and ideas enabling the global transition towards a carbon-neutral society in this century. Innovation is better when it is open, it is more legitimate when it is democratic. The EU should therefore create a citizen-based instrument to steer European energy innovation: a digital platform where innovators and citizens can co-create innovations that are democratically selected, and then financed by citizens, business angels, local communities and the European Union. On this platform, EU budget allocation would be very simple: where an EU citizen invests one euro, the EU invests one euro. Supported projects can then become a start-up or, as start-up is no panacea, an intrapreneurship project to transform conservative companies into energy transition tigers. All in all, the EU ship has a capable crew of entrepreneurs and researchers, and enough public and private investment capacity that can blow in its sail to safely navigate towards a carbon-neutral future. The Energy Union provides the right compass, but EURICS should allow Europe to set its own course, placing the citizen at the helm to keep the heading, ignoring the US Sirens’