Taking the lead in climate-friendly technology

July 5, 2010
by Joe Terrett

The massive oil eruption in the Gulf of Mexico is helping us to reflect more seriously on our insatiable need for fossil fuels. Having 116 million US gallons (and counting) of raw crude heading for a US coastline tends to sharpen the focus, thus US president Barak Obama declares he is serious about a cleaner energy future, and we can assume, based on Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper’s view of environmental matters, that he will second the motion, whatever it may be.

In other words, this is a good time for innovators and manufacturers to explore more fully the opportunities in climate friendly, clean energy technologies.

The worldwide industry is expected to be the third largest within a decade. Based on our geography and resources, this should be an area in which we excel on a global scale. A Conference Board of Canada report released in March agrees except it notes Canadian research, policies and businesses have not focused on new opportunities, nor are they doing a good job of maintaining existing ones.

However, the report suggests it’s not too late to take a global leadership role in some areas. For example, Canadian innovators are developing some interesting photovoltaic (PV) technologies for solar power applications.

Rarely a week goes by without an announcement from Calgary firm Sustainable Energy Technologies about its low-voltage power inverters that connect solar power systems to the grid. These devices allow solar panels set up in non-traditional parallel arrays to handle rapid power fluctuations and maintain a continuous connection.

Sustainable Energy is one of several companies investing in Ontario where the Liberal government is betting clean energy will help solve its power capacity problems, address some of its pressing emissions issues, and add some depth to its diminished manufacturing base.

Aside from some of his goofier notions about energy conservation (such as recommending taxpayers do their laundry at 3 a.m. when rates are low, or not use their air conditioners during the day when it’s hottest) Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty may have this clean energy thing right. Samsung says it’s investing $7 billion in wind and solar projects in the province and take advantage of a high, guaranteed rate for adding power to the grid, all of which will require locally sourced manufactured parts and components, and services.

Bigger picture, this is just the kind of environment that will help Canadian companies become leaders in global markets. And that must be the goal. Canada’s domestic markets are too small to sustain world-leading technologies. Ontario’s clean energy policy will allow innovators to operate in a domestic lab to refine their products so they can take them to much larger, growing global markets.