B.C. can leverage competitive advantages to grow its cleantech industry and take advantage of a reinvigorated and rapidly escalating global green economy, according to pundits.
But to do so, the province must increase investments in clean energy, address gaps, and be more aggressive about meeting its own climate targets to trigger more innovation and growth in the sector.
U.S. President Joe Biden's recent climate summit demonstrated countries worldwide, including Canada, are striving for aggressive climate targets that will dramatically fuel the growing global low-carbon economy, said Merran Smith, executive director at Clean Energy Canada.
At the virtual summit, Canada announced a new target to drop national emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
The U.S. — Canada’s largest trading partner — went a step beyond, announcing new targets of 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, while European commitments generally stretch further still, Smith said.
The global cleantech market is expected to exceed $3.3 trillion by 2022, according to Economic Development Canada (EDC).
There is a huge economic opportunity in transitioning to a net-zero economy, something B.C. should pursue aggressively, Smith said.
The province’s recent budget built on previous climate commitments, but B.C. didn’t seize the net-zero opportunities associated with the global zeitgeist to tackle climate change, she added.
“The world is looking for clean energy and low-carbon goods and services,” Smith said.
“And there just wasn't anything in the budget that signalled that B.C. was going to be investing and focusing on how we get those companies and sectors up and going.”
More investments in hydrogen energy or battery manufacturing, or using B.C.’s hydro-electric grid to power key transportation networks like BC Ferries or trucking at the Port of Vancouver, are some examples that would drive a clean economy, she said.
“Many of those technologies are ready for primetime, but they're going to require government vision and investment to get the infrastructure in place,” Smith said.
B.C. has a clutch of leading cleantech companies and a clean electrical grid that provide a big competitive advantage, especially given a new climate-conscious U.S. market, she said.
As a result of the Biden summit, Canada and the U.S. are collaborating to green their government operations, and that includes using cleaner energy sources, moving to zero-emissions vehicles and striving for greener infrastructure.
The two countries will also identify a path to net-zero supply chains for buildings and construction, along with transportation.
The province already produces many of the goods needed for the net-zero transition, from forest products to the metals and minerals required for electric vehicles that trading partners will demand in a low-carbon economy, Smith said.
“B.C. has all the pieces. We have this near zero-emissions electricity grid, and we have the natural resources,” she said.
“But there's no vision or plan about how B.C. is going to really take advantage of this and retain a competitive edge.”
Smith believes the province should also implement its own “buy clean” program with standards around the amount of pollution construction materials can produce.
It would support both established and emerging industries in the province, help government reach its climate targets, and give the competitive advantage to B.C. products — often lower in carbon than those of global competitors.
Jeanette Jackson, CEO of Foresight, a B.C.-based cleantech accelerator, agreed B.C. has a number of advantages to leverage in a green global market.
The province is a cleantech leader in the country and one of the first provinces to use the carbon tax to transition industry into the green economy and establish a climate plan, CleanBC, she said.
The province is home to close to 300 cleantech companies, with the sector’s revenue valued at $2.4 billion, according to 2019 data.
However, most innovation in B.C. to meet climate change is actually targeted for global consumers, Jackson noted.
The sector is increasingly export-oriented, with close to 90 per cent of the revenue predicted to take place outside of B.C. over the next three to five years. That's why it's important to find ways to support and maintain innovators so they don't leave the province, Jackson said.
One of the biggest challenges faced by the sector is a tendency by various stakeholders to operate in silos, Jackson said.
It’s necessary to develop a cleantech cluster where small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), industry, academics, investors and government work collaboratively to achieve goals and overcome sector challenges, she said.
Clusters accelerate the pace of innovation, get ideas to market faster, and scale already existing innovations and tech.
“We really need to lean into the evolution of how we scale cleantech ventures, ensuring they are very problem-driven,” Jackson said.
“That way, we can get ahead of the innovation cycles, and be much more efficient and effective in launching technology companies that will scale quickly, and have a clear path to market.”
There’s also a need to develop data-driven decision-making, she added.
For example, determining the top five problems the province needs to resolve to meet its own net-zero goals, Jackson said.
“When you do that successfully, obviously, there are also huge opportunities for export and international economic development,” she said.
Also figuring out how to grow, nurture or address gaps in B.C.’s talent pool in co-operation with academic institutions and industry is key, Jackson said.
There also needs to be more storytelling going on, Jackson said.
Marketing both B.C. and Canada’s cleantech sectors and their competitive advantage needs to take precedent, she said.
“Let's make that known globally. That’s what is going to attract international capital and buyers.”
Regulatory policy from senior levels of government with clear requirements or values to reduce or eliminate emissions will also help drive the cleantech sector in B.C., Jackson said.
“When industry has clear policy, they know what framework they can operate in and can make those decisions (to innovate),” she said.
And the bolder the policy, the better, Jackson said.
“As we’ve seen in Europe, where they set the standard high, industry and innovation step up.”
Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer
Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer