ACTIA’s Ja­son Switzer

If Al­berta plays its cards right, it could ride the com­ing wave

Alberta Venture - - Contents - By MICHAEL GAN­LEY

If Al­berta plays its cards right, it could ride the com­ing clean-tech tsunami

The Al­berta gov­ern­ment has launched a se­ries of poli­cies to re­duce Al­ber­tans’ con­tri­bu­tions to cli­mate change. A car­bon tax, the moth­balling of coal-fired power plants, the cap­ping of emis­sions from the oil sands and the tight­en­ing of reg­u­la­tions around meth­ane are but a few of the ini­tia­tives that have put this prov­ince on a very dif­fer­ent path from that which it had been on.

Whether this is good or bad for busi­ness is a mat­ter of con­sid­er­able de­bate. On the “it’s good” side – with caveats – is Ja­son Switzer, a former green­house gas en­gi­neer at Shell Canada and now ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Al­berta Clean Tech­nol­ogy In­dus­try Al­liance (ACTIA). Switzer says the op­por­tu­nity is there for a “clean tech” in­dus­try to thrive if the right poli­cies are put in place. “The ques­tion is how to turn pro­gres­sive en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy into suc­cess­ful in­dus­trial pol­icy,” he says. “How do we cre­ate jobs and build com­pa­nies that can help the coun­try and, in par­tic­u­lar, this prov­ince re­build em­ploy­ment?”

Ac­knowl­edg­ing that it’s a wooly term, Switzer de­fines “clean tech” as a tech­nol­ogy or ser­vice that pro­duces bet­ter en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic per­for­mance than the de­fault al­ter­na­tive. “What­ever the bench­mark is to­day for how we do some­thing, in the clean tech space you of­fer some­thing bet­ter en­vi­ron­men­tally and eco­nom­i­cally,” he says. “It may have to do with re­duc­ing re­liance on wa­ter or re­duc­ing the pro­duc­tion of green­house gases or any num­ber of things.” Com­pa­nies in the field in­clude those deal­ing with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, data crunch­ing, al­ter­na­tive ma­te­ri­als, ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing and much more.

ACTIA re­cently wrapped up a sur­vey of 220 clean tech com­pa­nies in the prov­ince. The sur­vey es­chewed multi­na­tion­als in favour of look­ing at smaller-scale and ven­ture stage busi­nesses. It found that the sec­tor em­ploys 1,800 peo­ple in the prov­ince and comes with an aver­age wage of about $ 100,000, sub­stan­tially above the prov­ince’s me­dian of $58,000. Over half a bil­lion dol­lars in in­vest­ment has come into the prov­ince through these com­pa­nies and they gen­er­ate more than $300 mil­lion a year in rev­enue.

Switzer says good reg­u­la­tions will be a driver of fur­ther op­por­tu­nity. “What we have to do is de­sign the reg­u­la­tions as an en­abler and not an im­ped­i­ment,” he says. “We have to fig­ure out how we use our do­mes­tic mar­ket – in oil and gas, agri­cul­ture, forestry, fer­til­iz­ers, spe­cialty chem­i­cals and so on – to help peo­ple com­mer­cial­ize stuff.”

He points to the gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach to meth­ane re­duc­tion. Meth­ane is a far more po­tent green­house gas than is car­bon diox­ide. “If nat­u­ral gas is to be part of a low- car­bon fu­ture, you have to make sure you’re cap­tur­ing up­stream meth­ane emis­sions,” Switzer says. “If you’re vent­ing due to leaks or a de­ci­sion to burn or sim­ply not cap­ture – as Nige­ria and Rus­sia do – you may be mak­ing things worse rather than bet­ter.”

Al­berta has com­mit­ted to re­duc­ing meth­ane emis­sions from oil and gas op­er­a­tions by 45 per cent by 2025. The prov­ince’s tech­nol­ogy fund, Emis­sion Re­duc­tion Al­berta (for­merly the CCEMC), has es­tab­lished a $40-mil­lion fund to sup­port meth­ane-re­moval tech­nol­ogy. Both the U.S. and Mexico have adopted com­pa­ra­ble goals, as has the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. The think­ing is that the tech­nolo­gies de­vel­oped in Al­berta can then be taken to for­eign mar­kets.

Switzer would like to see gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance focused on com­pa­nies try­ing to progress from ini­tial com­mer­cial demon­stra­tions to large-scale pro­duc­tion, rather than on star­tups. “It’s a whole dif­fer­ent skill set and not some­thing Canada has tra­di­tion­ally been good at,” he says. “We’re good at de­vel­op­ing new tech­nol­ogy, but what we haven’t been good at is com­mer­cial­iz­ing them. We need to go from a pretty good idea to a glob­ally dom­i­nant plat­form.”

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