Canada’s fastest growing energy sector isn’t based in Alberta. It is not in fossil fuels, and it received little support from the Federal Government. According Clean Energy Canada’s report Tracking the Energy Revolution, more Canadians are directly employed in clean-energy sectors such as efficiency, clean transportation, and biofuels than are directly employed in the oil sands. To be a clean energy leader, Canada needs to get in the game.
In 2012, there were 23,700 direct employees in the clean energy sector, as opposed to 22,340 direct workers in the oil sands. (The numbers exclude indirect jobs and so-called “induced” jobs, which if added in would push the oil sands number higher.)
“This is big business and if it were given more attention by the Federal Government, who is largely ignoring it at this time, this could be even bigger business,” said Merran Smith, Clean Energy Canada’s director. “Over the past five years, $25 billion has been invested into clean energy. That’s the same (amount) that was invested in fishing, forestry and agriculture combined, over the same time period.”
Much of the funding for Canada’s development comes from foreign financial institutions. Four of the five firms are based in Germany or Japan. Manulife Financial Corp is the only Canadian institution on the list.
“This is a wake-up call to Bay Street,” said Smith, referring to Toronto’s financial district. “Foreigners are seeing the potential in our clean energy. Canada has a significant clean energy resource and we should be investing in it.”
Fossil fuel companies recognize the potential. Companies like Enbridge, TransCanada and Transalta have installed thousands of MW of renewable capacity.
“They recognize where the puck is going,” Smith said. “Global investments in clean energy last year were pretty close to those in fossil fuels.”
She added, “Our biggest markets, the US and China, are the biggest investors in clean energy. We should take note of that. We are selling them our fossil fuels, while they are investing in clean energy. They are buying our fossil fuels right now, but they are setting themselves up to be powered by clean energy in the future. Their governments are putting in place the policies and support for their industries.”
The world’s energy community is putting an increased focus on renewable energy, energy storage, smart grids, infrastructure for electric vehicles, and cutting-edge clean energy projects.
One of Europe’s largest utilities, E.ON, recently announced it was divesting itself of fossil fuels to concentrate on renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Most Canadians appear to see what happening. According to a national poll taken last summer, 87% of the population said a long-planned national energy strategy should prioritize clean energy. (Only 32% said exporting more gas or oil should be a top priority for such a plan.)
“Canadians want to be powered by renewables, even in Alberta the majority of the population wants the province to transition off of coal immediately or in the next five years. People want us to be a clean energy economy,” said Smith.
Yet so far, Ottawa has largely sat on the sidelines. It has not provided tax incentives and research support similar to those that enabled the oil sands to become what it is today. Some 72 nations – together representing 42% of the planets GDP – have now adopted carbon pricing. Though Canada has some carbon pricing in B.C., Quebec, and to a much lesser extent Alberta, it has no national carbon price.
Smith said, “We have been meeting with people to talk about leveling the playing field and help build out clean energy infrastructure, as well as putting a national price on carbon. As you can imagine, there’s not much appetite on putting a price on carbon.”
“Companies that are investing now are the companies that are going to create the innovations and the expertise and they are going to be the companies that are exporting in the future. Nations that are exporting clean energy products and services now are going to be the exporters in the future.”
“Canada needs to get in the game if we want to be a clean energy leader.”
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