Brussels spouts

Listen carefully and you will hear the distant rumbling of thunder from the direction of Brussels. Today the EU did what it does best and made a big, portentous announcement on the subject of energy.


The European Commission’s new energy strategy is a mixture of targets, ambitions, exhortations and dark hints about the fate that awaits Europe and the world if its words are not heeded.


A second industrial revolution, no less, is needed if Europe is to avoid becoming a charred wasteland due to global warming, its few remaining survivors living in a state of perpetual fear that the Russians are about to turn the gas off.


Alright, maybe the EU didn’t put it quite that strongly, but the subtext of its energy announcement was clear to see ­– carbon reduction and security of energy supply are the two biggest challenges facing the continent.


This is very hard indeed to argue with. Energy, whether related to our level of self-sufficiency in production or the environmental impact of its consumption, will indeed dominate the thoughts of policy makers over the next decade and beyond.


It is for this reason that The Engineer magazine and The Engineer Online are making 2007 their Year of Energy, and will set out to examine the major technology and policy issues surrounding the production, transmission and consumption of energy.


The EU has kicked the debate off in fine style, but the problem is the sense that once the fine words are spoken and ambitious targets set, the entire process will immediately become bogged down in the undergrowth of bureaucracy. Committees will be formed, reports will be commissioned, action plans will be drawn up and framework programmes established. Then we will wait.


In the meantime, here’s a couple of suggestions on how the EU could move things along rather more quickly, at a pace that might stand a chance of addressing the very real issues it raises in its own report.


First, it could take a rather more robust stand on nuclear energy. The EU is famous for telling its member states what to do, but sensibly recognises that telling a country it must build nuclear power stations might be a directive too far. It could, however, make it clear that nuclear is a vital component in both reducing carbon and securing supply, and throw some of its weight behind technical innovation in the nuclear industry.


Secondly, the energy policy promises to raise energy research investment by 50 per cent. It is vital that this money is used to effectively support the continent’s innovative SME sector, which finds it notoriously difficult to connect with the Brussels behemoth.


So the EU has spoken, and the Year of Energy is underway. The stakes could hardly be higher.



Andrew Lee


Editor

The Engineer & The Engineer Online