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Harvesting clean tech


September 14, 2010
by Joe Terrett, Editor

Last year’s economic apocalypse wasn’t very helpful to industry commerce, but manufacturing sustained crippling blows before the economy went south. The forest products industry has endured huge job losses as mills and plants closed. The automotive industry also sustained heavy job losses while narrowly escaping the collapse of two North American automakers. And Canada’s energy sector (specifically the oil sands) is under assault from environmentalists and governments that consider bitumen to be “dirty” (not to be confused with clean) oil.

Oddly enough, these three huge industrial sectors have something else common aside from hardships: the need to clean up, and that’s what they’re doing. The automotive industry is now engaged in the development of more fuel efficient, environmentally sustainable vehicles; forestry is developing more sustainable ways to make products and to use less power to do so; and the energy sector needs to produce cleaner energy.

Coincidentally, a quickly growing and developing clean tech industry to serve these and other needs represents an great opportunity for manufacturers.

The 2010 SDTC Clean Tech Growth and Go-to-Market Report by the Russell Mitchell Group points to a long list of opportunities, such as: alternative power generation; biofuels and biochemicals; energy infrastructure; energy efficiency; process efficiency; remediation of contaminated sites and Brownfield development; transportation; recycling and waste; and wastewater.

Yet Canada has been slow to board the clean-tech bandwagon. A Conference Board of Canada report places Canada 14th in exports with a piddly $4 billion (2008), which is even behind Mexico.

One reason is we’re entering the game late and without much of a national climate policy. Some leading European countries have been building their clean tech credentials with wind and solar strategies since the 1970s.

Ontario has decided on a policy. It has forged a strategy that, if successful, will supplement its power needs with renewable energy options and lay the foundation for a clean tech industry that will sustain up to 16,000 new jobs. Its Green Energy and Green Economy Act, and the feed-in tariff (FIT) program have aggressive local content rules for the development of wind and solar energy projects, which is good news for Ontario manufacturers. The stage is being set for them to cash in on the clean tech revolution. But if Canadian manufacturers, most of them SMEs, are to fully engage in the clean tech bonanza, a few things have to happen.