Skip to main content

Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail

Canada's claim to energy superpower status rings hollow because the country is a laggard when it comes to developing and exporting its own technology, according to a new report.

The country is falling dangerously behind in the multibillion-dollar global energy technology race, hobbled by "piecemeal and fragmented" government policies and programs, says the report by the Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto, slated to be released Thursday.

"Becoming an energy superpower requires more than just taking things out of the ground and selling them around the world," concludes the report by Mowat energy policy associate Tatiana Khanberg. "What is missing is energy technology."

Canada will never be a global leader if it can't match its extraction prowess with technology leadership, Ms. Khanberg argues.

"The transition from technology follower to technology leader will not happen overnight," the report points out. "It requires a long-term commitment of both resources and political will."

To begin with, Canada should put technology at the heart of a new national energy strategy, focused on helping the world transition to lower carbon energy, added Mowat Centre director Matthew Mendelsohn.

"The world is evolving to cleaner forms of energy and we don't have the technology to support that," he said. "There's no reason why Canada shouldn't be thinking of itself as an energy superpower in a different way."

Ottawa and the provinces must also invest public money in a focused way in technologies such as smart-grid management, energy storage and unconventional oil extraction, he said.

If it works, technology could become the glue that binds the country in a new energy strategy, helping to offset regional tensions, such as the B.C.-Alberta dispute about the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline, Ms. Khanberg suggested.

Mr. Mendelsohn said next week's meeting of provincial energy ministers in Charlottetown is a perfect opportunity to put the issue of energy technology on the table. "There are lots of people interested in whether our enormous energy natural resources can be turned into greater strategic economic advantage," he said.

Echoing one of the key conclusions of last year's federal Jenkins report on research-and-development spending, the report urges more direct government funding of energy technology development and less emphasis on indirect measures, including tax credits or programs such as Ontario's costly feed-in tariff regime.

The report also recommends creating a new federal energy department to host these R&D efforts, merging scattered current programs, setting long-term R&D spending targets and providing new funding for Sustainable Development Technology Canada's clean-tech fund.

The report paints a sobering picture of the current status of energy technology R&D in Canada, including low levels of private investment, a meagre track record of technology innovation and a growing technology trade deficit.

Canada spends a lot on energy R&D relative to the size of its economy, but it scored much lower in such measures as clean-tech patents and exporting homegrown products. In wind technology alone, Canada had an $833-million trade deficit, according to a 2011 Conference Board of Canada study.