Along the lines of the European Commission Communication of July 2017 on "Strengthening Innovation in Europe's Regions: Strategies for resilient, inclusive and sustainable growth, interregional collaboration contributes to reshaping EU-wide value chains and moving towards a more effective regional innovation and growth policy. Through this collaboration, participating regions and Member States are to exploit complementary regional research and innovation capabilities, while building up necessary capacities, overcoming scale issues and lack of critical mass. They are also expected to improve the existing business environment by identifying barriers to innovation, new investment opportunities or skills needed.
Based on a bottom-up approach, the Smart Specialisation Platform on Energy has facilitated the creation of the Solar Energy Partnership. The Smart Specialisation Solar Energy Partnership offers interactive and participatory opportunities for interregional cooperation among regions and Member States that have selected solar energy as a priority in their Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3).
The Extremadura regional government presented its application as partnership leader at the kick-off meeting of the Solar Energy Partnership in May 2017, with the close involvement of the Joint Research Centre (JRC), in cooperation with the Directorate-Generals for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO), Energy (DG ENER) and in collaboration with eight other EU regions, sharing solar energy priorities in Europe.
Since then, the JRC and the Smart Specialisation Platform in particular, has provided methodological support and guidance to the Solar Energy Partnership and the leading region of Extremadura to a great extent. The JRC has developed a manual for the scoping and mapping exercise (for stakeholders with the relevant competences) and matching (of business opportunities) phases of the partnership. Furthermore, the JRC has proposed an evaluation framework to facilitate the monitoring process and assess the partnership's progress.
Concentrated Solar Power as the Partnership Focus
Among the different thematic areas in solar energy, Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) was identified by a wide range of regions as a key theme to be further developed. In this area, the objectives are two-fold, namely (i) to generate and export solar electricity from Extremadura to other Member States so that they can achieve their renewable energy targets and (ii) to provide an R&D centre dedicated to the Research and Development of the Concentrated Solar Power technology, other solar technologies and energy storage, as well as allowing their testing and implementation.
How has Smart Specialisation made a difference?
The establishment of the Solar Energy Partnership has provided Extremadura with the opportunity to make a two-fold contribution to European policy objectives: both within the territorial development field and towards the implementation of the energy union strategy.
The region of Extremadura became a member of the S3PEnergy given the region's identification of Energy as one of its core priority areas of its RIS3. The region's particular interest in solar energy resulted in the region's leadership of the Solar Energy partnership. Becoming a key member of the Solar Energy partnership enabled Extremadura to execute its RIS3 with the involvement of other regions in Europe. For example, through the partnership, Extremadura paired with its neighbouring region (Alentejo) in the development of the First Of A Kind (FOAK) plant and the solar energy research facilities. Moreover, through the partnership, Extremadura internationalised its strategy to develop solar energy technologies by involving other regions in Europe which could be potential up-takers of the renewable energy produced in their planned CSP plant.
Furthermore, through the advancement of research in the field of solar technologies and also the ambition to make solar electricity cross-border trade projects 'bankable', the partnership is supporting the following three priorities of the energy union. Firstly, by increasing the share of solar energy in the energy mix, the partnership hopes to contribute to the decarbonisation of Europe's energy systems. Besides, strengthening cross-border transmission, electricity networks will improve the integration of the EU's electricity market. Furthermore, the value proposition to match renewable generation, where solar energy is most abundant, with European demand hubs for such energy, will also increase security of energy supply in the union.
The next important step involves financial issues. The region has developed a multi-level financial framework to combine municipal, regional and national financial sources, together with private investment, as well as a wide range of European funding sources including, the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, Horizon 2020, Interreg, Life as well as FI-COMPASS initiatives.
A particular example of the type of funding sourced has been the Spanish-Portugese trans-border programme "Poctep". The combined funds have been used to open a call for a study on the development of joint Extremadura-Alentejo FOAK plant project (the project comprises a CSP commercial plant and also includes a centre for CSP technology testing). The results of the study are not yet available; however, they are expected to act as a guideline for the development of an action plan for the FOAK project.
- Interregional partnership for Solar Energy