The eight initial Centres for Environment-friendly Energy Research (FME) received high marks from the panel of international experts that evaluated them half-way through their period of operation. There are, however, several areas where there is room for improvement.
In its report, the evaluation panel states: "The achievements of the Centres are generally impressive. The Centres have established clearly defined research profiles, and engage highly competent scientists, many of them with international reputations, as well as clever and enthusiastic students. All Centres have two or more research partners, in several cases at different sites. In this way they have successfully fostered increased research cooperation across institutional borders, thus consolidating environmentally friendly energy research in Norway."
Important for Norway
After four years of operation, the first eight FME centres are on their way to attaining a high level of international scientific standing, and have at the same time enhanced cooperation on research on environment-friendly energy in Norway and abroad. The centres have published internationally recognised results and have played a major role in training researchers, research managers and leaders for the companies of tomorrow in the areas of solar energy, offshore wind energy, CCS, bioenergy and zero-emissions buildings.
The panel writes: "We believe that in the long run, fluctuations in energy policy and the economy notwithstanding, the FME scheme has the potential to develop very important applications to the benefit of Norwegian society and industry."
As Tone Ibenholt, coordinator of the FME scheme at the Research Council of Norway, states: "The mid-term evaluation shows that the FME centres are on the right path to achieving the objectives set out by the Research Council when it launched the scheme. We hope that the evaluation will help the centres to achieve the scheme's objectives in all areas by the end of their eight-year periods of operation."
More focus on the business sector
The evaluation also pointed to several areas in which the FME centres need to intensify their efforts. In particular, industry participation and internationalisation were singled out as areas in need of improvement.
The report shows that many of the business-sector user partners are not fully satisfied with the returns on their participation in a centre. Part of the reason for this may be that, when joining a centre, the companies did not always fully understand the rationale behind the long-term perspective and goals of the centre, and therefore did not incorporate these perspectives when assessing fulfillment of expectations.
According to the evaluation panel, in the long run, the centres will probably receive most of their industrial support from large companies which can afford to fund research that does not give immediate return on investment. The panel recommends the exchange of researchers and company employees on a much wider scale than is the case today.
The evaluation panel concludes that thus far the FME centres have not achieved the broad international recognition they are seeking, although several centres are on their way to doing so and several have enjoyed success under the EU Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development.
The panel does not find this situation surprising, given the short period the FME centres have been in operation. The panel also suggests that this may be due to prominent host institutions or research partners stealing the spotlight from the centres themselves.
Detailed recommendations for each centre
The eight FME centres target bioenergy, zero-emissions buildings, CCS, offshore wind energy, environment-friendly energy design and solar energy, and were established in 2009 with a funding pledge for five years with the possibility of a three-year extension. The recently published mid-term evaluation report is the work of a scientifically autonomous panel, and all the conclusions and recommendations presented represent the independent views of the panel.
"The evaluation report will form the scientific basis for the Research Council when determining whether to continue funding the individual FME centres for the last three years of the eight-year period. The report also provides valuable advice to each centre on how to further improve its activities," says Ms Ibenholt.
The FME initiative
The mid-term evaluation encompassed the following FME centres:
- BIGCCS Centre ' International CCS Research Centre
- Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy (CEDREN)
- Bioenergy Innovation Centre (CenBio)
- Norwegian Centre for Offshore Wind Energy (NORCOWE)
- Norwegian Research Centre for Offshore Wind Technology (NOWITECH)
- Norwegian Research Centre for Solar Cell Technology
- SUbsurface CO2 Storage ' Critical Elements and Superior Strategy (SUCCESS)
- Research Centre on Zero Emission Buildings (ZEB)
In 2011, three FME Centres for Social Science-related Energy Research (FME Samfunn) were established to supplement the eight existing FME centres:
- Centre for Sustainable Energy Studies (CenSES) (in Norwegian)
- Strategic Challenges in International Climate and Energy Policy (CICEP)
- Oslo Centre for Research on Environmentally Friendly Energy (CREE)