First came the arms race. then, the space race. Now, the nations of the world are in the throes of a different competition—the new-energy race—and the stakes are no less dramatic. The winners will effectively lead their economies into an era of unprecedented prosperity, security, and abundance—with strong employment, strengthened ecosystems, lowered public-health costs, and improved quality of life, among other benefits.
The United States, China, Great Britain, and many other nations are working today to rapidly transition off hydrocarbons and reorganize their cities and societies to provide energy services in ways that are environmentally and socially benign. These countries are making big investments, training the brightest, hiring the best, incubating new technologies, and moving rapidly into a future that will look very different than the present.
All are pursuing an immense opportunity. The International Energy Agency is calling for global renewable-energy investments of $430 billion by 2020 and $1.2 trillion by 2030.
Where is Canada situated in this global race? With outstanding universities, a proud history of innovation, and a wealth of natural resources, we have assets that position us well as leaders, and a stable financial system to manage the transition. Ernst & Young cited this latter quality last year, when the firm ranked Canada 9th out of 27 economies for renewable-energy investment attractiveness.
We also have the hydrocarbons necessary to support us through this shift, tremendous efficiency potential, technologies needed to provide energy services with much less input energy, myriad sources of clean energy, and the research capacity to create the innovations that will ultimately become some of our leading export products. Further, we have a favourable national character to embrace transformation; we are one of the few jurisdictions in the world with a demonstrated ability to find common ground on complex challenges. Come crunch time, Canadians have a proven ability pull together and get the job done.
however, while Canada has an enviable opportunity to thrive in this new energy era, we have some catching up to do. We must activate our considerable potential to achieve this opportunity. The world is moving quickly, and we risk being left behind. We can no longer afford to stand on the sidelines.
In January, President Obama instructed his nation’s scientists and engineers to focus on the most difficult clean energy problems, and assured them his government would fund what he called “the Apollo projects of our age.” A new U.S. Department of Energy program called SunShot is working to bring the price of solar photovoltaics down to $1 per watt— competitive with natural gas—within six years. Meanwhile, Shanghai recently minted the world’s first wind-energy billionaires. In 2009, Chinese investments in new energy topped $34.6 billion, almost double those of the United States.
For its part, Canada has invested little in new energy. others are looking to wind, solar, enhanced geothermal and more, but
we haven’t yet meaningfully embraced these energy solutions of the future. Before we can join this vanguard and occupy a position of leadership on the world energy stage, we must fully embrace the possibilities of a post- petroleum era. We must identify our strengths, dare to dream big, then roll up our sleeves and get started.