It has been an exciting few months for the Canadian clean technology industry, with a refreshed optimism coursing through the sector, thanks to new environmentally positive governments in Ottawa and Alberta, an agreement at the Paris climate talks, and even an endorsement of the climate change fight from the Pope. Richard Blackwell speaks to some of Canada's clean-tech leaders about the brightening mood.
Shawn Qu is the chief executive officer of Guelph, Ont.-based Canadian Solar Inc., one of the world's largest solar panel makers.
Mr. Qu said he feels the "tone" in government circles has changed, and is now more favourable to renewables. Visiting Ottawa recently, "I could see a clear sign that bureaucrats are seeking actionable ideas in this sector," he said.
The same is happening in countries such as the United States and India, Mr. Qu said.
Mr. Qu has made two specific recommendations to Canada's federal government: First, instead of exporting natural resources and fossil fuels, Canada should support the export of sustainable technology and expertise. Second, the Canadian government should install renewable energy facilities in its overseas offices, such as embassies and consulates, whenever feasible. That would demonstrate "the nation's commitment to combat climate change, but also showcase and promote Canadian sustainable technologies and companies."
Kent Brown is the co-founder and executive adviser at BluEarth Renewables Inc., a Calgary company that owns solar, hydro and wind energy operations across the country.
There has been a "very dramatic change" in the public mood, Mr. Brown said, particularly in Alberta, where there is now an acceptance that big changes are coming to electrical generation. "In Alberta, not even six months ago … [the view was that] if the market changes, it will fall apart. The end of the world will happen if you make any changes."
Now there is a recognition that change is inevitable, after the New Democratic Party won the provincial election on a platform of ending coal-powered generation and adding more renewables. "[They said] we are doing it, and you can either be part of this conversation, or the train will leave the station and you will be left behind," Mr. Brown said. "People really paid attention to that and took it seriously."
In Ottawa, there is also a dramatic change in attitude, he said. "It is a total 180 [degree shift]. We are going from no participation [in global discussions about mitigating climate change] to saying 'Hey, we want to be part of this.' It is hugely important for Canada."
Eric Murray is CEO of Temporal Power Ltd., a company that makes an innovative flywheel power storage device, now being used to help balance short-term fluctuations in Ontario's electricity grid.
Mr. Murray said the problem of climate change has finally sunk in with federal and provincial government leaders. They now realize, he said, that "this is not a bunch of wing-nut scientists who wear Birkenstocks and eat granola. This is the reality and we better fight it [climate change] or it is going to get ahead of us."
Ottawa has also recognized that the clean technology sector is a real industry, he said. "They are mobilizing now to be a world player. That is such a breath of fresh air." The fact that federal and provincial entities are now working together is "shocking" after years of disjointed action, he said. Both levels of government finally seem to realize that "sustainability is an environmental and an economic necessity, and you can optimize for both of those at the same time."
Annette Verschuren is CEO of NRStor Inc., a Toronto-based firm that invests in leading-edge energy storage technologies.
Ms. Verschuren said that the improving political tone will contribute to the accelerating growth in the clean tech sector. "Energy storage costs are going down and the energy and electricity industries are clearly speaking more openly about new technology and innovation," she said. That means this is "a good time to price carbon."
What's needed to keep up the momentum and get technologies to market, Ms. Verschuren said, is a combination of private investment and government support. "It is critical that we invest more risk capital in the clean tech space and create progressive government policy to accelerate the commercialization of new clean technologies."
John Dogterom is managing director of MaRS Cleantech, the clean technology venture capital group at the MaRS incubator in downtown Toronto.
The past year has seen a "pretty phenomenal" change in mood, Mr. Dogterom said. "You've got people speaking up all over the place. It definitely doesn't hurt to have the Pope on your side. We've seen a lot of momentum over the last little while."
The change in the federal government is most notable, he said. "I was in Ottawa [recently] and it is an entirely new place. Clean tech is now being seen as a top priority that cuts across all the different existing government silos. My hope is that we can maintain the momentum after Paris."
John Brace is CEO of Northland Power Inc., which owns wind, solar, biomass and natural gas power plants. It is also building two huge offshore wind projects in Europe.
"Over the last six months, the outlook for the Canadian renewables sector has definitely improved," Mr. Brace said. "With a national focus on decarbonization, and recent commitments from both Saskatchewan and Alberta to shift from coal-fired generation to renewables, we are seeing some very encouraging signals."