Research and collaboration spaces to hasten Alberta’s energy sector toward net-zero greenhouse gas emissions got a $3-million funding boost from Ottawa on Wednesday, in what the head of one oil company said underscores the amount of clean-technology collaboration going on behind the scenes.
About $2.1-million of the federal cash will help support downtown Calgary’s Energy Transition Centre, which links the University of Calgary with the private sector to turn vacant office space downtown into an area to develop clean-energy technologies. Another $900,000 will go to the Foresight Clean Technology Accelerator Centre, which will provide training and investment opportunities for that clean-technology sector.
The cash is “a really good start” to push the energy sector further toward Canada’s ambitious goal of bringing emissions to net zero by 2050, said Alex Pourbaix, chief executive officer of Cenovus Energy Inc. and chair of the Canadian Association Petroleum Producers. But, he added, it will take “tens of billions of dollars over decades” to achieve pollution reduction targets.
“It isn’t often obvious, but our industry has been engaged in massive collaboration with all levels of government in this quest to decarbonize the industry,” he said Wednesday at the announcement.
Still, he doesn’t believe the energy transition vaunted by governments around the world means completely replacing oil and gas with renewables and batteries.
Rather, he said, “What you’re going to increasingly see – and particularly from the oil and gas industry – is the decarbonization of those fuels, rather than those fuels going away.”
That’s where accelerators come in.
The idea is to provide a space where entrepreneurs can work closely with large-cap oil and gas companies such as Cenovus, sharing information and figuring out novel ways to decarbonize the energy sector. Connecting the two camps tends to result in quicker, more effective scale-up of technology prototypes.
“We can not only just advance technologies faster, we can also create commercialization opportunities faster and lower emissions faster,” said Kevin Krausert, whose venture capital fund and training and leadership forum, Avatar Innovations, has played a key role in the Energy Transition Centre.
Jeanette Jackson, CEO of Foresight, said bringing industry into accelerator programs vastly hastens the commercialization of various clean technologies. With sector players involved, she said, the traditional seven- to 10-year timeframe to bring a technology to market can be shaved to just two to three years.
“Making sure that the ventures are validating the problem and the market through data with industry at the table will be key to commercializing quickly, and achieving some of those GHG reductions that we’re all looking to achieve,” said Ms. Jackson.
“The sooner we can get them up to speed and supported with experts – trusted experts – that can help them solve those scale-up problems quickly, the better off we’ll all be.”
And while private investors such as pension funds and private-equity firms are often left out of the transition discussion, she said, making sure they’re part of the conversation from the start will make it easier to attract capital to the clean-technology sector.
Daniel Vandal, the minister responsible for Prairies Economic Development Canada, said Canada cannot become a global leader in clean tech without those kinds of collaborations between governments and the private sector.
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