A conference set for Calgary next week will bring dozens of speakers to the heart of Alberta’s oil patch to imagine the future of the energy industry – a vision that often includes a world without fossil fuels.
The second annual Energy Disruptors conference is being staged in a province that has for years struggled with an economic downturn – and where new pipelines and expanded oil and gas infrastructure are widely viewed as the solutions. It is also taking place against the backdrop of a federal election campaign in which both climate change and the expansion of Alberta’s oil sands are significant issues.
Speakers include author Malcolm Gladwell, education and creativity guru Sir Ken Robinson and executives from Suncor and Shell, as well as experts in renewable energy and artificial intelligence.
Conference co-founder Graeme Edge said the energy industry is undergoing a massive shift away from fossil fuels even while global demand for energy is expected to increase apace.
“How do we reduce the footprint and impact of that energy on our planet? That’s a massive challenge.”
Mr. Edge said the goal of the conference is to bring together people from a wide array of backgrounds to collaborate on a vision of the future, both in Canada and areas of the world that still don’t have reliable access to energy. And he said it’s no coincidence that the conference was born in a city with an energy-dependent economy.
“By having this in an oil-and-gas centre, we’re thinking about the future of energy through a lens of opportunity rather than a lens of fear. That disruption can create a lot of business opportunities.”
The conference agenda features a series of TED Talk-like speeches, as well as panel discussions and interactive breakout workshops. About 2,000 people are expected to attend.
Michael Liebreich, the London-based founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said the event is an opportunity to stage a proper debate about a subject that has become increasingly polarizing: how to reconcile the environment with the energy industry.
Mr. Liebreich, who delivered the opening speech at last year’s event and is returning next week, said many in the industry still haven’t fully realized that the ground is shifting. To survive, he said, they must either begin the shift away from fossil fuels and toward alternative energy sources or, in the meantime, become as low-carbon as possible.
“They haven’t come to the understanding that their product is also doing harm,” he said in an interview. “The oil-and-gas industry has to realize that it does not have a long-term future of any sort if it continues to operate in the way it has been.”
At the same time, he bristles at the idea that the fossil fuel industry must vanish overnight, with some activists proposing to cut off capital and market access through tactics such as the divestment movement.
“As long as poor people need natural gas to heat their house, or as long as poor people need petrol or diesel to get to work because they can’t afford a Tesla, it is not acceptable to starve those companies of the capital needed to provide those services,” he said.
“I would rather put my effort into building an alternative. When there’s an alternative, you can say, ‘Now we can remove these other sources from the market.’ ”
Christina Lampe-Onnerud, whose work focuses on batteries, and who will deliver a keynote speech at the conference, said the message for the industry isn’t doom and gloom. Rather, she said, traditional energy companies should start innovating now to adapt, moving into renewable energy or focusing on other ways to use petrochemicals, such as manufacturing.
“You can leverage assets that are already in place while you implement modern technology at the same time,” said Dr. Lampe-Onnerud, who founded the U.S.-based startup Cadenza Innovation, Inc. and is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
“You create a lot of new interesting jobs, you create a new market.”
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