February 22nd, 2020

New energy future for Alberta?

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on October 8, 2019.

Is province prepared for disruptive change to energy sector?

Shelley Wilson


Recently we saw further waves buffeting the oil industry. Millions of people around the world marched on Sept. 27 demanding climate action, and British Columbia won a court ruling that temporarily blocks Alberta’s turn-off-the-taps legislation.

Against this backdrop, the recent Energy Disruptors conference in Calgary was timely indeed. The event brought about 1,500 energy-sector leaders together with world experts to talk about the winds of change.

Peter Tertzakian, chief energy economist at ARC Financial, spoke of the economic forces of “disruption, denial and transition” that are disrupting industries like media, retail, technology and now energy. And Gianna Manes, CEO of Alberta-based utility Enmax, said her company is “paying attention to the megatrends of decarbonization, digital technology and distributed energy.”

Climate concerns are only one factor in the emerging energy market disruption. Fast-evolving technologies like AI, blockchain and smart grids are radically changing jobs and cost structures. New energy sources are rapidly scaling up, including hydrogen, solar, wind, wave and geothermal, and battery electric.

As these three megatrends accelerate, our No. 1 concern in Alberta is the jobs and capital draining out of oil and gas.

Premier Jason Kenney is right that we must speak up for Alberta oil. Equally, we need to keep sight of the bigger picture. We all know that while oil and gas has brought us prosperity, it’s also a commodity with volatile prices. Like the proverbial one-company town, Alberta’s over-dependence on one economic sector has left us vulnerable.

The question is how well will Alberta be prepared for the disruptive change coming to the province’s energy sector. The answer will decide our fate.

Trying to preserve the status quo in the face of massive economic forces could make Alberta the new Detroit. Instead, we could seize the bull by the horns and work towards making this province the new Silicon Valley of clean energy. If we do so, it could be a real windfall; if we don’t, our competitors will.

As Tertzakian dryly commented, “the real force of change for disruption often comes from the microeconomics of business: stronger, disruptive competitors.”

It’s time. The patch needs to pivot. Not because we are giving up – we aren’t. Not because we feel bad about our energy sector – we should feel proud of our many achievements.

It’s about remembering who we are: Albertans are builders, innovators, and people deeply connected to the mountains and prairie on our flag. We can build on our success and take our energy expertise to the next level – what Mary Moran, CEO of Calgary Economic Development calls “our higher purpose.”

Moran’s vision, echoed by many, is that Alberta steps up to take a leadership role – and gains a wealth of good jobs – by developing the new types of energy that the world is demanding, alongside fossil fuels.

We are better positioned to achieve this than most of our competitors. Alberta is blessed with a high-grade mix of all that’s necessary to make it happen: a highly educated workforce with world-class engineering, technology and business acumen; abundant raw materials in wind, solar, hydrogen, and geothermal; energy infrastructure ready to go; and policy frameworks, like no sales tax and the only deregulated electricity market in Canada.

The shift is already underway. Calgary-based Greengate Power, for example, is building one of the largest solar projects on the continent in Travers, Alberta northeast of Lethbridge. Greengate CEO Dan Balaban says Alberta boasts solar resources to rival Florida and “the best onshore wind in North America. We’re now at the point where renewables make sense in a subsidy-free market.”

Another Alberta energy innovator is Proton Technologies. Working on sites like abandoned oil wells, Proton can produce valuable, zero-carbon hydrogen fuel at a fraction of the production costs required by a conventional built plant.

The low-cost hydrogen could be used by upgraders, for example, to replace diluent (used for moving bitumen through pipelines), and freeing up the pipeline space used to import diluent. It’s not a trade-off between jobs and the environment, but rather a win for both, as well as a chance to increase market access.

Alberta urgently needs a forum for business, government and other stakeholders to have this conversation. It could be a useful mandate for Kenney’s $300-million War Room – doing macroeconomic research on energy sector risk analysis and strategy.

Alternatively, think tanks like the Canada West Foundation, the Energy Futures Lab or the new Transition Accelerator could also join the conversation or even play host.

Alberta needs an organization to take the lead. Who will do it?

Shelley Wilson is an Alberta-born businessperson, consultant and writer. Her work has appeared in Troy Media, the Calgary Herald, the Globe and Mail, and Corporate Knights magazine. Distributed by Troy Media.

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5 Responses to “New energy future for Alberta?”

  1. Southern Albertan says:

    “Alberta needs an organization to take the lead. Who will do it?”
    The Kenney UCP. No, just kidding…:)
    Alberta/Canada, have massive renewable resources/resource tech capabilities.
    This brings to mind what a UCP MLA for said on a tour of the Whitla wind project in Forty Mile County with regard to “just as long as renewables are not subsidized by the taxpayers,” whilst the oil and gas sector, a sunset industry, is still subsidized by taxpayers both federally and provincially by $billions/year.
    If renewable tech can make it without government subsidization, then the oil and gas sector should too. After all, free market enterprise is loved very dearly by right wing partisans…kind of, or a lot of, a paradox.
    Even ‘Big Oil’ is buying in to renewable tech….they’re not stupid. It is a burgeoning $trillion dollar industry and will employ millions globally. Time to get with the program and cash in while the getting is good.

  2. zulu1 says:

    Although renewables may be a welcome addition to the total energy picture, their progress will , inevitably be a slow one, primarily because of the very nature of a resource that requires back up energy sources to provide reliability. If anyone doubts this , the closure of the Medicine Hat solar project should be a reminder. Secondly, we should not let extreme environmentalists dominate the discussion, when, for example authoritative bodies like the International Energy Agency reports that fossil fuels will still provide 76% of total global energy needs 30 years from now.
    Yes, eventually fossil fuels will be superseded by other fuel sources but it would be a huge mistake to try to phase out fossil fuels before a totally reliable alternative is in place. A good example of this is the UK where their national grid is already less reliable than it was because of a premature reliance on renewables. Alberta’s fossil fuels are going to be around for a lot longer than some people would like you to believe.

    • Dennis Bremner says:

      zulu1 said: we should not let extreme environmentalists dominate the discussion

      Unfortnately you can see from the article this Shelley Wilson has already been influenced by the huggers and did not mention Nuclear. The only people that object to Nuclear are the same groups who believe that Windmills and Solar can feed us all the energy we need and we should turn the taps off ASAP.

      Neither are true and when they are confronted with the facts of “numbers of square miles of either solar or windmills needed just to sustain Alberta they do the eyeroll and try to smoke tally plate numbers and not actual generation to justify their ferry tale numbers.

      Stating anything that is not socially acceptable or politically correct nowadays results in people like the Author not even mentioning Nuclear for fear of being ostracized from contributing papers in the future

  3. John Clark says:

    The Conservatives are the problem with pipelines, not the natives or other non-identifiable sources.
    All the conservative premiers spent two days at the Calgary Stampede saying Bills c69 and C48 are hurting Alberta’s oil industry where in fact the two bills did away with Harper/Kenny legislation that was holding the Expansion up. Since these two bills came in it became possible to make a deal. Now, the shovels are in the ground, 80% of the pipe required is delivered and the Contractors are picked and hiring now.
    On the downside, Kenny was seen on TV opposite an environmental lawyer who was trashing the trans mountain. He was nodding and smiling his approval. That Expansion will mean 47 billion in tax revenue for this country. The Cons are pushing against it because the US does not want us shipping off our west coast! The cons are obliging.