What the 2013 Throne Speech Means for Canada’s Cleantech Sector – The Speech from the Throne delivered by Canada’s Governor General yesterday outlines the Government’s agenda in broad terms over the upcoming year. Here are some key takeaways for what this agenda could mean for Canada’s cleantech sector.
80% of Canada’s 700 cleantech companies are exporters. The speech outlined several initiatives under ‘the most ambitious trade agenda in Canadian history’ including:
- A comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the EU – Although likely targeted at some of our major manufacturing and resource sectors the tighter environmental regulations and comparatively limited availability of natural resources makes the EU an attractive market for our cleantech companies. Strong cultural and historic ties and similar legal and business frameworks would also contribute to making the EU a preferred market for many of our cleantech solutions.
- A commitment to expanded trade with emerging markets in Asia and the America’s – If one of the positive characteristics of the EU is the relative ease of doing business for a Canadian cleantech company it is counterbalanced by the raw demand for solutions from Asian economies that are going through the transition from developing to developed. There is no question that opportunities here are huge and any commitments to increase trade in these markets is a positive trend.
- A comprehensive plan to assist Canadian businesses as they expand abroad – With most Canadian cleantech companies being SME’s the less internal resources consumed through establishing a presence in foreign markets the better.
There is a clear commitment to build on our ‘immense natural wealth’ to ‘seize Canada’s moment’ to ‘lead the world in security and prosperity’. The speech goes on to say however that the government believes that ‘resource development must respect the environment’. The majority of what came next focuses on environmental protection from spills and similar risks to local communities (a direct reference no doubt to the tragedy at Lac Megantic). There are related opportunities for some cleantech companies in monitoring and cleanup but the resource extraction sector has for the last few years recognised and invested in combating the environmental and economic risks associated with their operations which in the oil sands for example is more energy and water intensive than in other parts of the world. I have maintained that some of the biggest local cleantech opportunities would be tied to greening our biggest industries, a theme that featured prominently in a national summit I co-chaired in 2011. With the fate of Keystone pipeline in question based on the environmental impact of our oil sands sector you can bet that technologies that lower the environmental impact of these and other resource extraction operations will be in high demand.
Canada’s forests are of course another major natural resource. The government plans to continue to ‘support innovation and pursue new export opportunities for Canadian companies’. Whether this means another round of investment into the Investments in Forestry Industries Transformation Program launched in 2010 where the government allocated $100M over four years to invest in innovative technologies for renewable energy and non-traditional, high value forest products to make Canada’s forest sector more economically competitive and environmentally sustainable remains to be seen.
Clean technology companies are, as the name implies, technology companies and are therefore very knowledge intensive. The throne speech highlighted that Canada leads the G7 in post-secondary research investment and outlined the following initiatives building on a refocused NRC, Venture Capital Action Plan and expanded IRAP program which could mean greater support for moving these technologies into the market:
- An updated Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy
- Targeted investments in science and innovation chains from lab to market
The Advanced Manufacturing Fund to support new products and production methods could also be useful here.
Finally there were several references to developing and maintaining the sovereignty of Canada’s North. The ‘responsible development of its abundant natural resources’, establishment of the High Arctic Research Station, opening of the deep water Arctic port and other activity all point to the need for environmentally sound technologies to support settlements and operations in these remote locations particularly in supplying energy and water and managing waste.
Although any specific action on climate change was not mentioned there is still a lot to be gained by the cleantech sector in Canada and the industries and communities that stand to benefit from these solutions in the year ahead.
For a transcript of the speech follow this link.
16 10 2013
Technically Elegant – I read a piece today about General Fusion in BC. A company that is developing technology to produce clean energy by making little stars here on earth in their fusion reactor. The technology works by injecting plasma into a sphere filled with molten lead-lithium before an array of pistons drives a pressure wave into the centre of mixture that creates fusion conditions where atoms fuse together and release a lot of energy (and no long-lived radioactive waste) in the process. My technical side gets really excited about what this company is doing, the equipment and engineering drawings look like they’re taken out of the latest Iron Man movie. That’s important at this stage as it attracts and inspires some of the best and the brightest technical minds to solve a big but beautiful problem with equipment that just looks cool. There’s an embedded lesson here about people (and really the business of getting clean technologies like this to market is largely about people) that technology entrepreneurs should consider as they plot their path forward – as much as the content of what your technology does matters the packaging always matters as well. If what you’re pitching is a Tesla Model S don’t neglect to recognise and leverage the emotional response that the smooth curves generate in your audience. If you have a new way to treat sewage waste…well I’m sure you (literally) get the picture and that’s my point.
Once the techno-euphoria has passed my rational, company-and-market-building side takes over and I have sobering thoughts about the technical, regulatory, market and other challenges that lie ahead for General Fusion from something as simple as not wanting to be the technician on night duty when part of the system fails to the potentially long and difficult PR campaign of explaining to the public why this can’t create a black hole that will swallow the planet. I know there are tough challenges to come (we help solve them all the time for projects and companies in this sector) but hats off to the General Fusion team for such a technically elegant start to solving a truly out of the box problem.