Key policy messages and conclusions

1. Main thematic outcomes

1.1. Regional renewable energy

Renewable energy technologies and services can be formidable drivers for regional growth and job creation. To date, several European regions and municipalities have successfully shown how renewables can be used to instigate development and investment. The decentralised nature of renewables also means that the benefits they bring are local, and that jobs and growth can be created locally through harvesting, transforming, transporting and storing renewables, provided that the right political framework conditions have been created.

The change towards renewable energy is a true energy revolution. This total system change requires a strategic approach and long-term political commitment in order to trigger the necessary investments. Regions engaging in this change process need to keep in mind that it may take 30 years before they can be considered as a renewable energy region!

The multitude of renewable energy sources has brought about a complex landscape of innovative technologies and services that require learning and better understanding for reasonable decisions to be made. This concerns policymakers, building owners, investors, businesses and citizens alike. To overcome this hurdle, professional communication and education as well as participatory projects will need to be deployed at a large scale. The large choice of technologies and services is also an opportunity for regions, allowing them to find their own market niche and thus provide a fertile ground for smart specialisation. 

1.2 Participating regions

It is an encouraging sign that the 69 EU regions involved in INTERREG IVC RES projects recognise the substantial potential that RES has, and that they are willing to learn and collaborate in this area. The involvement of both ‘experienced’ and ‘learning’ regions brought a good mixture of practices to the table, representing how renewables can be supported throughout the four different stages of market development (‘Commitment & Planning, ‘Emerging Markets’, ‘Mature Markets’ and ‘Saturated Markets’).

In order to increase the uptake of renewables at the regional level, more effort should be made to provide regional statistics. Information is available at global, European and national level, but there is no systemic collection of data at the regional level. This is a blockage to the uptake of renewables as it complicates attempts to draw up action plans and to take stock of the existing energy situation.

However, the intensive exchange in INTERREG IVC projects offers access to regional experience and the opportunity for spreading and taking-up policy instruments in a large number of European regions. The INTERREG IVC projects have done a great job of raising awareness of the challenges faced by regional authorities. Additional experience and practices are available through the Intelligent Energy Europe programme, Europe INNOVA (for example, the KIS-PIMS project) and through EurObserv’ER regional case studies.

1.3 Best practices

An excellent collection of 212 good practices is now available thanks to the INTERREG IVC partners. The study has shown that the projects are beneficial for both experienced renewables regions seeking inspiration for new and efficient policy schemes and learning regions wishing to get a head start using policy schemes and approaches that have already been tried and tested. The majority of practices concern the ‘Commitment & Planning’ (12%) and ‘Emerging Markets’ (73%) stages, which appears to be the right concentration since most regions are at these development stages. Nevertheless, for regions with more experience in one or more renewables, more advanced policy practices have been collected (‘Mature Markets’ 12% and ‘Saturated Markets’ 3%). Within the ‘Emerging Markets’ segment, a high concentration of ‘technology demonstration’ practices can be observed, mainly originating in the sector-specific projects. The focus on demonstrating and showcasing technologies underlines a strong need for information and awareness-raising on the technological and economic possibilities that renewables can offer.

2. Systemic strengths and weaknesses in INTERREG IVC

Often mentioned and widely disliked by our interviewees, the projects stop when they are finally starting to create real thematic impact. A common request was to extend the duration of projects to 48 months.

2.1. Types of impact: thematic impact, and impact on governance processes

We need to distinguish between two types of impact: the impact in the thematic area, (i.e. new renewable energy support policies introduced or local feasibility demonstrated), and the impact in policy learning, international engagement and governance changes. While the first impact is probably the one programme designers mainly had in mind, the second is a more hidden impact that comes along when regional policymakers engage, maybe for the first time, with their peers from other regions in a joint project. It is not uncommon for these projects to trigger changes in regional governance, such as the establishment of local stakeholder groups, the inclusion of external expert knowledge into decision-making processes or cross-sectoral, cross-department and cross-institutional exchange and co-ordination. This less visible impact which is systemic and not specific to a given thematic area is usually perceived as very beneficial by participants and must be stressed and fed back to programme designers.

2.2. Timing of impacts: not all impacts occur at the same time

Just like any other project team, newly formed INTERREG IVC consortia require time to become teams that are able to function as a unit and get the job done. The Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing (FSNP) model of group development describes these typical stages that make a team out of a group of individuals.42 There is no magic potion to shorten this process, and programme design needs to take it into account that, in each consortium, there is a rather non-productive starting phase while the team is developing. Tools like the joint development of rules of group management and communication flows coupled with socialising to get to know each other can speed up the process.

The impact on governance processes occurs right from the start of projects, once the consortia have become teams. While more is always nicer, in general partners are working effectively as teams after 12-18 months.

The tangible thematic impact in regions typically comes towards the end of INTERREG IVC projects, sometimes only after 30 months. By then, the teams are performing very well, have finished all the exchange and analysis of good practice cases, identified the practice(s) each region wants to implement and started implementation. At this point, the teams could easily create further impact: they have accumulated thematic knowledge, identified sources for expertise, engaged local stakeholders, and started off processes to make things happen. Hence the call for extension of project duration so as to reap the full benefits of the action.

Apart from extending project duration, what other options are there to bring about thematic impact more efficiently?

3. Outlook: Next steps?

3.1. Manage and promote the body of renewable energy thematic knowledge

Each of the analysed thematic projects has accumulated considerable relevant knowledge. Taken together, this sum of individual projects’ knowledge represents a common ‘body of knowledge’ in thematic best policy practices. At present, however, we cannot yet speak of a ‘body’; the knowledge is not yet pulled together and organised in a user-friendly manner for future initiatives – with or without public support – to draw on. It is highly recommendable to centrally manage the knowledge created by the projects to preserve it from being lost at the expiry of project funding for the project website. A central body of thematic knowledge – or a renewables policy tool box - would be of great benefit for future projects: it would make it possible to shorten the time taken to search for useful practices, for background information and for analysis of transferability potential. For the programme owner, it would be useful for checking if proposals are building optimally on previous initiatives and making effective and efficient use of public funding.

3.2. Complete and continuously enrich the body of renewable energy thematic knowledge

The total number of good practices in the renewable energy thematic area that have been identified, collected, analysed and described by the seven projects in the area is already impressive with over 200 practices. Yet this body of knowledge is not complete and the four market development stages of renewables are not equally represented. There is, on the other hand, already a wealth of knowledge on demonstration projects in most renewable energy sub-sectors. Future thematic funding decisions should privilege applications, seeking to fill in the current gaps of the readily available body of knowledge and should expand on areas of particular interest highlighted by this report, such as co-operative ownership and financing structures. 

3.3. Accelerate the implementation of available ready-to-adapt good practices in the thematic area

The following lines simplify and over-emphasise the complex and heterogeneous reality of INTERREG IVC (renewable energy) projects in order to better make a point.

Most projects start from scratch: before significant thematic impact in the region is created, many months (up to two years) are spent on gathering knowledge, searching for background data, analysing the information at hand, and examining how it fits into the regional context. While this is relevant in areas where the common thematic body of knowledge is still incomplete, this time could be shortened for areas where previous projects have already gathered sufficient, relevant knowledge.

To speed up regional thematic impact, a new streamlined family of ‘accelerator’ projects could be designed to complement the current INTERREG IVC project types. These would focus, essentially, on creating the maximum regional impact in a given, optimised, timeframe.

Accelerator projects could:

  • Provide services for single regions
    This would allow a gain of up to six months required for consortia to become performing teams (cf. FSNP). It follows the logic that regional impact is ultimately created by the empowered regional players.
  • Require applicants to identify in their application a pre-selection of a limited number (e.g. four) best policy practices from the online public thematic body of knowledge that the applicants aim to promote in their region.
    This would allow the already gathered, analysed and described best practices to be taken up and implemented more widely. Pre-selecting four practices would allow for the subsequent discard of three practices for reasons of political agenda, negative results of feasibility studies, resource limitations, etc. but is likely to guarantee that at least one practice is approved for implementation. Inviting applicants to pre-select before applying ensures applicants have done their homework, browsed the available knowledge and started to think about suitability and transferability into their own region.
  • Fund the in-depth discussion of the four best practices with all relevant regional stakeholders in public and private sectors. This would allow the number of practices considered for implementation to be narrowed down to two, based on the feedback from the stakeholder groups.
  • Fund feasibility studies for the two remaining best practices
    This would allow an assessment of the compatibility of the selected practices with existing laws and similar existing  measures and an estimation of the potential impact to be carried out. Based on the result of the feasibility studies, the more feasible of the two practices would be selected for pilot implementation in the applicant region.
  • Fund the development of a detailed implementation plan with resource planning and milestones
    This would allow for the optimal preparation of the implementation of the selected practice.
  • Fund mentoring of the accelerator regions by a pool of regional mentors that have provided the good practices for renewable energy.
  • Fund the management, coordination and monitoring of the implementation of the pilot action and the mentor pool, as well as a limited amount of other costs required for its implementation. This would help to kick off pilot implementation of the chosen best practice in the region and would help to overcome resource limitations.

Accelerator projects could last 18 months, with 4 months planned for in-depth discussion with stakeholders, 6 months planned for conducting the two feasibility studies and developing one implementation plan, and 8 months for implementing the best practice in the region.

The graphic below describes the process and the timing for accelerator projects.

A 5-step approach from identification of interesting thematic best policy practices to pilot action

In parallel to the accelerator projects it would be useful to set up a thematic support structure, possibly the same that manages the body of knowledge. This support structure must possess thematic expertise, be familiar with the best practices in the body of knowledge, and have extensive networks across the thematic community of practice at European level.

Accelerator projects would be able to consult the support structure to get external feedback during each step of their work in order to remove knowledge bottlenecks that might hold up accelerator project progress.

Support to accelerator projects would not exceed €75 000 per applicant. Funding for accelerator projects could be made available as a lump sum to simplify administrative procedures, in line with the philosophy of the overhaul of the European Programmes. A voucher type funding system looks promising and adequate, given the limited financial risk.

An experience report from a similar type of action will be available from the ECOPOL project in Spring 2014 (43).

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