Towards a new Research and Innovation Policy Regional perspective

By Pirita Lindholm, Director, ERRIN, (pictured)
Summer 2018

Pirita Lindholm, Director, ERRINWe live in interesting times regarding Research and Innovation policy. The debate on the upcoming funding period (Multiannual Financial Framework post 2020) has raised skills as well as research and innovation as the main EU policy areas that should be strengthened. Commissioner Günther Oettinger has spoken strongly in favour of the future Framework Programme (Horizon Europe) and the ERASMUS + programme, both of which are key to Europe’s future and economic development.

ERRIN, European Regions Research and Innovation Network, seeks to bring regional and local perspectives to Research and Innovation policy. By showcasing the impact, challenges and needs of regional innovation ecosystems, our objective is to create a dialogue with European Institutions and to open doors for financing opportunities that support and help strengthen these ecosystems further. Finding appropriate partners to cooperate with, is crucial in research and innovation. Therefore, match-making ideas and partners as well as supporting project development are ERRIN's core activities. The network also supports consortium-building through its various Working Groups, which cover a vast range of Research and Innovation areas. ERRIN works in a "bottom-up" way, which means that a few member regions – between three and five – lead the work of each working group, set priorities and prepare annual work plans with the support and input of the other members.

The Energy and Climate Change Working Group, led by Scotland Europa (UK), Lombardy Region (IT), Oslo Region (NO), Extremadura Government (ES), Cities Northern Netherlands (NL) and West Finland (FI), aims to strengthen the overall work of ERRIN, by supporting regions to develop their regional energy systems, showcasing regional expertise to a wider European audience and developing successful projects at the EU level. This year, two main priorities have been identified by the group as key to ERRIN members: energy efficiency and the future of smart cities.

Energy efficiency:
The Energy Efficiency Directive (art. 8) requires Member States to develop programmes encouraging SMEs to undergo energy audits and to implement the recommended energy-saving measures. Despite the relevant saving opportunities, SME contribution to energy efficiency is still limited across Europe due to lack of expertise, time and capital. To unlock this potential, many initiatives have been launched, with different results. For instance, Lombardy Region highlights the importance of engaging with regional authorities, industrial associations, chambers of commerce and energy agencies to draw up and implement regional energy efficiency plans targeting SMEs. Therefore, our work on energy efficiency this year will focus on creating strategic partnerships between the key stakeholders to mobilise resources, both public and private, at regional, national and European levels, to support energy efficiency projects within SMEs.

Future of smart cities within smart regions:
The smart cities and communities programme has been well received by cities, as it helps to discover cross-sectoral innovative solutions. It is also based on a multi-actor approach, where city administrations work with research and private sector partners. Nevertheless, one of the bottlenecks of the programme has been scaling up the solutions developed by light house cities. A Smart Region perspective could provide some solutions to this. For example, Helsinki-Uusimaa has just adopted a carbon neutrality target by 2035. The region has taken an important facilitation role in bringing together not only cities and municipalities but also the other actors of the quadruple-helix (private sector, research, civil society). There is an enormous potential for encouraging other regions to set their regional carbon targets and create further cooperation between the different actors. Ambitious targets and actions by cities and regions also send a strong message to the national, international and European government levels and can push forward more ambitious targets and increased actions at other levels..

Clean energy transition requires further emphasis on sustainable energy storage solutions. Given the raise of electricity demand (electrification of the energy sector) in the coming years as well as the toxic properties of current battery technologies, we are facing resource dependency, environmental risks but also challenges such as battery fields like Elon Musk's Giga Factory in Australia. There are many environmental, social and economic reasons for a different type of battery technology. So far, this important dimension is hardly tackled in European energy storage discussions. What could be the vision for truly sustainable Energy Storage?

During the EU Sustainable Energy Week, ERRIN will co-organise a session on smart grids, renewables and storage as part of the official programme, as well as a side event on sustainable batteries. The latter will be an opportunity to showcase two innovative, sustainable, stationary energy storage technologies from two European Regions, Thuringia and Friesland; the progress of these technologies, but also what needs to be done to further improve stationary battery systems.

In addition, how these technologies meet the European Battery Alliance’s sustainability criteria, their advantages in comparison to current battery solutions regarding social mining, reuse, recollection, recycling and Energy Return on Investment (EROI) will be discussed.. The objective will be to raise awareness on several existing valuable concepts and innovations different from mainstream developments. The examples of Thuringia and Friesland demonstrate that European regions can offer innovative solutions that could contribute to the clean energy transition the European Union is aiming at, if they are being integrated in ongoing and future initiatives and activities.

The energy transition process requires scaling up existing innovative models, and both social and technological innovation. We hope to see that reflected in the upcoming research and innovation programme. There are some interesting new features in discussion, such as the "mission approach" that should be part of the societal challenges pillar in Horizon Europe. Such an approach will hopefully provide further opportunities to regional and local actors to actively propose their innovative solutions, and broaden the current call structure, which can be quite prescriptive. In addition, silos should be further broken by connecting sectors, such as climate, energy, and transport. One aspect on policy priorities is clear: we expect the draft Horizon Europe to place further emphasis on these three policy areas, as decarbonising our society requires research and innovation, and in particular accelerated actions – together.

ERRIN (European Regions Research and Innovation Network) is a Brussels-based platform that gathers together more than 130 regional organisations in 24 European countries. ERRIN aims to strengthen the regional and local dimension in the EU Research and Innovation policy and programmes. It promotes knowledge exchange between its members, focusing on joint actions and strategic partnerships to strengthen regional research and innovation capacities and thereby foster sustainable and inclusive growth in regions.

We are pleased to invite you to the ERRIN EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) side event "Energy Storage Vision 2025. Can Europe beat Elon Musk?", which will take place on 6th June from 14.00 at the Greater Birmingham and West Midlands Brussels Office (Avenue d'Auderghem 22-28 Oudergemselaan, Brussels)