Alberta’s big opportunityA blog series on how Alberta can take advantage of a new international agreement

Blog - Feb. 17, 2016 - By Sara Hastings-Simon

Goose Creek Renewable Energy

Canada, the United States and Mexico have just signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Climate Change and Energy Collaboration, which could mark a potential turning point in the growth of the clean economy. Canada’s renewed international engagement on the issue sends a clear signal that Ottawa recognizes clean tech as a crucial element of continued economic development throughout North America.

The timing of the MOU continues a trend of positive movement on clean energy in Canada, marked recently by the launch of Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan. The Plan sets up the province to take full advantage of the opportunity presented by the trilateral deal — if government, business leaders and residents stay focused and continue to work toward the best ways to capture it.

Support for renewables will lead to the development of more of Alberta’s excellent resources — the wind, the sun, our biomass waste and even the heat deep beneath our feet. The commitments in the leadership plan to deploy new renewable generation positions Alberta to take part in clean power growth while bringing both significant job opportunities and cleaner air to the province.

But the clean economy opportunities go far beyond just renewable electricity. The scale of this international collaboration speaks to an important reality — the clean economy is the biggest business opportunity of this generation. The unprecedented growth in demand for energy, building materials, water and food will be strained further by environmental and resource constraints over the next decades. This pressure will create a multitude of opportunities for innovations and solutions to meet these demands in a resource efficient manner. This unparalleled demand requires more than just the right technology. It requires capital and companies with innovative business models that can deliver at this scale.

There is already a growing list of examples of this kind of thinking across the province including capturing new opportunities in construction, taking advantage of our solar potential and turning waste into energy. Building on our entrepreneurial drive, deep experience in commodities — including energy, agriculture, forestry — and strong capabilities in finance, Alberta is well positioned to capitalize on this opportunity. Using the Climate Leadership Plan as our compass, we can create a road map for a low carbon Alberta that will allow us to position our investments in technology, people and companies to continue to follow business opportunities.

This announcement — along with recent federal support for green infrastructure —  is a clear signal we can follow today as the province makes infrastructure decisions. Smart infrastructure will provide Albertans a future with lower emissions and greater savings on energy bills. The signals can guide our technology investment into areas that will address resource efficiency to ensure the new technologies that come from Alberta answer the needs of the global economy.

While technological innovation will continue to be important, real impact and market growth comes from large-scale investment and deployment. Government support is a part of this, but there are exciting opportunities to leverage smaller amounts of public capital to unlock the required scale of private capital. Financial innovation can deliver this capital where the nature of clean tech opportunities couple upfront costs with clear predictable returns. Similar business model innovations — ideas like infrastructure as a service — will enable companies to find new ways to deliver benefits to customers that fit their needs.

The full range of challenges we face with global climate change can’t be underestimated. But for people, companies, and governments who lead this challenge it is an opportunity. Alberta has the people, technology, resources and knowledge necessary to play a leading role and seize this opportunity.

In the next blog in this series we look at the opportunities and myths surrounding renewables in Alberta.

Sara Hastings-Simon

Sara Hastings-Simons, elected to a three-year term on the Pembina Institute's board of directors in June 2020, was a senior fellow with the Alberta clean economy program with the Pembina Institute.


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