Globally, three main drivers promise to make clean technology ("cleantech") a major force. First, climate change is better understood so there is a new drive to reduce carbon emissions. Second, world populations continue to increase, driving up the consumption of natural resources. Third, ongoing access to oil and gas is uncertain and finite, thus spurring initiatives to develop alternate energy sources.
While Copenhagen was a disappointment to most, Prime Minister Harper did get one thing right; Canada cannot have an effective carbon reduction mandate until the United States does.
The United States has seen the green light. Obama pledged to embrace a green energy economy. He proposes federal carbon mitigation legislation to cut greenhouse emissions dramatically. Part of the solution is a cap-and-trade system structured to generate US$15 billion annually for investment in renewable energy. The Economic Stability Act contains tax breaks and incentives for renewable energy and cleantech. The Act will boost the cleantech industry and create new "green-collar" jobs, a key component of the Democrats' plan to re-energize the U.S. economy. Time will tell how much this agenda is affected by the election of the new Republican senator from Massachusetts and the new power balance in the US Senate.
If the United States restricts carbon emissions from its own manufacturers, it will not permit the migration of U.S. jobs to countries with less stringent controls. The US Environmental Protection Agency has announced it will regulate carbon emissions, even if Congress does not act.
What are we doing in Canada to kick start the green economy? Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's government has passed the Green Energy Act providing for, among other things, a "feed in tariff" programme by which renewable energy is purchased at premium prices on 20-year contracts. (See Cover Story here. ) A deal for establishing wind and solar equipment manufacturing facilities in Ontario has recently been announced with Samsung. Other provinces have less dramatic initiatives in play; but really there is not a lot more and the feds are becoming fixated on fiscal restraints.
Our country must develop a green strategy quickly -- one that includes more effective ways to encourage the development and exploitation of new technologies, or we will lose many more of our cleantech innovators to Waltham and we will not replace the jobs lost across the country.
As a reaction to this vacuum, Gary Schwartz, David Berg, Albert Behr and I are putting our shoulders to the wheel. We have formed CleantechNorth to mentor promising cleantech companies possessing intellectual property, management, scalability and the desire to grow internationally.
CleantechNorth will select 10-15 companies focussed on water, air and energy for this purpose. There is also a public face. CleantechNorth held its first conference in November for 250 attendees and we will hold our second event in the spring, to be focused on "Cleantech in the City." CleantechNorth is supported by organizations such as Gowling Lafleur Henderson, Royal Bank Group, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Cooley Godward, Hub International, GrowthWorks, MaRS, BDC, GCI, McQuarrie and many others. These sponsors will actively help coach our member companies. Take a look and sign up at cleantechnorth.com (or cleantechnorth on LinkedIn).
Despite the questions, complications and current economic malaise, we can expect significant progress in the cleantech industry in the very near future. We can also anticipate an increased drive toward more eco-friendly processes in all businesses. This will be caused in part by the need to reduce costs as energy prices rise and as costs are attached to carbon emissions. We will also see a rising chorus of voices encouraging social responsibility in cleantech matters; a different workplace dynamic because young employees are more interested in such issues than their present managers; "green activists" in the media, among our customers and at shareholder meetings. Stay tuned -- cleantech is becoming more muscular!