Joining All Energies to Deliver Innovation for Transport

By Mr Aguiar Machado, Director General, European Commision
Summer 2015

While COP 21, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, is approaching, the transport sector is increasingly reminded of one of the biggest challenges it faces: its dependence on oil. Despite technical progress, energy efficiency improvements and policy efforts, EU transport still depends on oil and oil products for 96% of its energy needs. This does not only impact our climate and local air pollution but also affects our economy. In 2010, the oil import bill was around €210 billion for the EU. If we do not address this oil dependence, people's ability to travel - and our economic security - could be severely impacted with dire consequences on inflation, trade balance and the overall EU competitiveness.

The 2011 Transport White Paper duly recognised the importance of this challenge and proposed as a response a roadmap to improve transport efficiency and decarbonise the sector by 2050. This goal has been translated in specific objectives to make the existing means of transport more efficient, to improve the transport system as a whole (for instance through measures on traffic management) and, last but not least, to ensure low-energy means of transports become more effective.

The Transport White Paper listed a number of policy instruments and levers that were at the disposal of the European Union to achieve these goals. These cover a broad range of tools from regulation to pricing, infrastructure funding and standardisation. In addition, the White Paper recognised that 'innovation is essential for this strategy', not only to deliver new technologies but also to promote more sustainable behaviour.

Following the experiences which were initiated under the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), the European Commission has decided to further enhance the cooperation of all actors to address the full cycle of research, innovation and deployment in an integrated way. As a result, a number of Joint Undertakings have been (re-) established under the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme so that all actors involved in specific sectors could come together and deliver coherent and resultoriented research and innovation programmes.

Out of the seven Joint Undertakings in Horizon 2020, four are directly or indirectly related to transport, namely: Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) 2020 to develop the new generation of European Air Traffic Management system that will enhance the performance of air transport; Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 to accelerate market introduction of clean and efficient technologies in energy and transport; Clean Sky 2 to develop cleaner, quieter aircraft with significantly less CO2 emissions; Shift2Rail to develop better trains and railway infrastructure that will drastically reduce costs and improve capacity, reliability and punctuality. These partnerships are expected to complement and add value to the research carried out through the regular Horizon 2020 calls for proposals.

The improvement of the vehicles' efficiency and the use of cleaner energy are the first elements on which innovation can contribute to improving today's transport system. Given the size of the challenge ahead of us, research and innovation should not be limited to incremental improvements but should also, where necessary, be disruptive and produce a real step change compared to toady's technologies and behaviours. Research and innovation activities in these fields need to also be accompanied by appropriate regulatory measures, deployment and standardisation efforts, in order to help transport ‘growing out of oil’ and thus becoming cleaner and more competitive.

In addition, to the improvement on the means of transport, the better use of existing networks would also contribute to improving the overall sector's efficiency. As a result, activities on automation, intelligent transport systems (ITS) but also on the deployment of smart mobility systems such as the air traffic management system of the future (SESAR), the European rail traffic management system (ERTMS), and the next generation of multimodal traffic management and information systems will be essential. The example of the development of next generation's air traffic management system though SESAR is particularly appealing. Following its development phase, the SESAR Joint Undertaking is currently launching its deployment phase, which will see the large scale production and implementation of the new air traffic management infrastructure, composed of fully harmonised and interoperable components guaranteeing high performance air transport activities in Europe.

Last but not least, another element of our strategy is to make greater use of more energy-efficient modes and ensuring that these are more competitive. With Shift2Rail, the Commission has decided to considerably boost the research and innovation effort on rail (by tripling its financing) with a view to develop and accelerate the bringing to market of technological breakthroughs, which should improve the competitiveness and the reliability of the rail sector. By ensuring the participation of all relevant stakeholders from the entire rail value chain, Shift2Rail will deliver a consistent and coherent plan to appropriately answer the challenges of the rail sector through a real system approach. Moreover, the early involvement of operators in the initiative will also guarantee that the technologies developed fit the needs to the sector and can be rapidly deployed.

For the future, as announced in the Commission's recent Energy Union package, we will be developing a strategic transport research and innovation agenda. This will aim at further deepening our understanding of the potential of new technology to improve transport - and identifying the key steps to deliver the appropriate research work.

Of course, the EU research and innovation initiatives are only pieces of the puzzle, but essential one. Recent experiences have demonstrated that by 'joining energies', result-oriented research and innovation programmes can achieve a faster and cheaper transition to a more efficient and sustainable European transport system. Combined with regulatory initiatives, standardisation and funding efforts, innovation is therefore a great asset to achieve a truly safe, competitive and resource efficient transport system.