From tourism to the province’s film industry, many of B.C.’s most prominent economic sectors have been hit hard by measures to contain the coronavirus. And surely you’ve seen the headlines lamenting cratering oil prices.
But what about the other side of energy?
The clean-energy sector, which employs more than 32,000 British Columbians, has certainly faced challenges of late, including a number of layoffs in the U.S. In B.C., a temporary decline in electricity demand could create revenue shortfalls for B.C. Hydro and our province’s independent power producers (though the opposite is true long-term, as electric cars and technology upgrades increase demand for renewable electricity).
Yet despite a temporary slowdown in demand, clean energy has proven resilient. Over the first four months of 2020, clean-energy stocks actually grew 2.2 per cent at a time when fossil-fuel stocks fell 40.5 per cent, according to an analysis by the Imperial College London in England and the International Energy Agency. What’s more, researchers found that “publicly traded renewable power portfolios have posted significantly higher returns for investors and lower volatility over fossil fuels during the past 10 years.”
So, what does B.C.’s promising clean-energy sector want from the province as we map out a recovery? We spoke with 20 B.C.-headquartered clean energy companies and associations to find out how COVID-19 had impacted their operations — and what the province could do to strengthen the sector at a critical time. And while each had a unique experience and specific recommendations, some key themes emerged.
For starters, every single respondent said that stimulus measures should be aligned with the province’s climate plan, a sentiment shared by Premier John Horgan when he pledged to put Clean B.C. “at the centre of our recovery.” According to Advanced Biofuels Canada, an association representing the province’s biofuel companies, doing so is also a competitive imperative for attracting global investment.
The government should also “support our emerging winners strongly and ensure that they scale up in B.C.,” in the words of one venture capital firm, whose clean-tech portfolio has fared better than average in recent months. This could be done with more funding and programs for clean-energy companies and communities, including increased support for the B.C. Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative.
Government and Crown corporations actively buying made-in-B.C. clean technology is another way. This point was especially emphasized by the Vancouver Economic Commission, which said that governments and government institutions, such as TransLink and B.C. Ferries, could help “grow the local market.”
Consider the case of Richmond-based Corvus Energy. A global leader in electric ferry batteries and charging technology, Corvus said COVID-19’s hit to the cruise-ship market had also hit their bottom line. One way the province (and B.C. Ferries) could help would be to buy more of the company’s technology as B.C. looks to electrify its ferries.
Put simply, buying local is among the most important ways governments can help firms grow and ultimately compete abroad.
At Ballard Power, we often point out that there are now over 3,000 fuel-cell buses and trucks in operation around the world — but none in B.C. This despite the fact that we employ over 700 British Columbians as one of the world’s leading fuel-cell companies. Buyers at home would only make us more competitive.
But while Ballard is a relatively large company, many clean-energy firms aren’t. As a result, they too easily fly under government radars. Our political leaders must not let that happen.
Recent analysis by U.S. and U.K. economists found that clean-stimulus measures aren’t only good for the planet, they’re also the most cost-effective way to jump-start economies. A similar study from McKinsey concluded that, when compared with fossil-fuel stimulus, clean stimulus created roughly three times the number of jobs dollar-for-dollar.
The evidence in favour of clean stimulus points to a clear conclusion: Our clean-energy sector is one of B.C.’s best long-term investments.
And now more than ever we need to be making wise, long-term investments.
This post was co-authored by Randy MacEwen, President and CEO of Ballard Power Systems, and originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun.