The 19 October independent evaluation of the European Institute of Technology (EIT) added to the European Court of Auditor’s concerns about how the EU funds research-led innovation. This, at a time when the ‘Lamy Report’ urges policymakers to link innovation and research closer together. The EIT was partly conceived as the instrument to align education and innovation. What, then, is the role of students?
Professor Marko Topič has his own views on the matter. He started to work with photovoltaics (PV) from the perspective of a fundamental researcher. Today, he is not only an expert on the field, but he chairs the European Technology and Innovation Platform - Photovoltaic (ETIP PV), an organisation that “gathers all the relevant stakeholders in the PV sector, with arrangements for cooperative discussions with Member States, Associated Countries, and Commission services,” explains Topič. Their main role is to provide strategic advice to ensure the space for solar PV in European research and innovation (R&I) policies.
Topič’s main driver is one he shares with students and European institutions: to make sustainable renewable sources of energy cost competitive and to deploy the winning technologies massively, transforming Europe into the leader of the energy sector. His call to action? “The 21st century will be the solar century.” Amid the turmoil caused by climate change, “students are keen to take the lead, [to] contribute to the mitigation of climate change, transition to sustainable energy, and decreasing Europe’s energy dependency,” Topič adds.
Research and innovation is now focused on storage technology, managing the variability of energy production, and determining the economic conditions and financing schemes, skills and policies that will be required to scale up. ETIP PV is a key component of a wider vision for a future where sustainable solar PV power will be the main (or one of the main) sources of renewable energy in Europe. And clearly, students are at the heart of this vision: they constitute an inevitable part of the process that is just getting started - the next generation of engineers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and innovators in the solar century.
What is needed from us is to engage with the Commission’s current efforts to improve the EIT and how it works. Bringing together researchers, industry and students at the heart of Europe’s innovation ecosystems, is now more acute than ever.