Will Clean Energy Investment Put Canada Back in the Race?

Nexterra Gasifier
Nexterra gasifier. Photo: Don Erhardt.

Today’s announcement that Ottawa will invest $82 million in a wide range of clean energy research and demonstration projects is welcome news.

It’s also not nearly enough to put Canada in the race.

While the federal government is allocating roughly one fifth—or some $17.7 million—of the funding for carbon capture and storage and other oil sands related initiatives, the lions share will support “true” clean energy innovation such as wave and tidal energy research, urban smart grids, biofuels, net zero homes, electric vehicles, and more.

The funding was first announced in the 2011 budget, under Natural Resources Canada’s ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative, and was to be allocated over five years. Fifteen of the newly announced projects will be pre-commercialization demonstration projects, while the balance will be research and development initiatives “to address knowledge gaps and bring technologies from the conceptual stage to the ready-to-be-tested stage of development,” the government said.

While the federal government should be applauded for its desire to compete in clean energy, today’s announcement would benefit from some additional context:

  • While $82 million is a healthy investment (more like $65 million if we’re talking about support for “true” clean energy projects), the number pales in comparison to the more than $700 million the federal government has committed to carbon capture and storage;
  • The government may think that it is “…positioning Canada as a global leader in the clean energy sector,” but independent analysis suggests quite the opposite. Canada is not only lagging behind other economies, but is falling further back as other countries aggressively move to embrace clean energy.
  • If Canada is to truly compete in clean energy, we’re going to need to make a much more significant and more coordinated effort than we’ve made to date. A national energy strategy and a nationwide price on carbon pollution spring to mind.

If the federal government genuinely wants to become a clean-energy leader, a good place to start would be to move on the recommendations made in the Mowat Centre’s  2012 study Smarter and Stronger: Taking Charge of Canada’s Energy Technology Future.

Don’t get us wrong, $82 million for R&D and demonstration is nice—but it’s not going to make us a  global leader, and it’s getting late in the race to make a move.

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