The message to Canadian clean tech firms is clear: any major growth strategy will likely have to involve going abroad.
That's the main conclusion emerging from new research released Wednesday by a think tank housed at Simon Fraser University.
The United States, India and China, the largest electricity markets in the world, were “collectively responsible for half of global clean energy investment in 2016,” says the research by Clean Energy Canada, an initiative of the Centre for Dialogue at the B.C. university.
But in Canada, where over 80 per cent of the power grid is already driven by emissions-free sources, clean energy investment was down for the second year in a row, said the report, “The Transition Takes Hold: Tracking the Energy Revolution 2017.”
"Canada is home to numerous clean energy technology and service companies, which are cutting their teeth at home but must ultimately look abroad if they are to continue growing," said the report.
Investment deals fell from over $4 billion (all figures CAD) to just over $2 billion relative to 2015, the report stated.
Some provinces have reached significant amounts of renewables
A spokesman from the think tank said this was mainly because a lot of major markets in Canada, such as Quebec, Ontario and B.C., have reached their capacity when it comes to renewable energy supply needs.
“We saw a real surge in clean energy investment in projects being built over the past four to five years, predominantly in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia,” said Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at Clean Energy Canada, in an interview.
Those provinces have now built out significant amounts of renewables, he said. “We need to be looking at what technologies, services, and expertise Canadian companies have that they can be selling into those other markets.”
But the report said "activity in the sector isn’t going to grind to a halt," as there is potential for Canadian growth in the renewables sector in Alberta and Saskatchewan, which have both set objectives to boost their renewable energy by 2030, 30 per cent and 50 per cent respectively.
Woynillowicz also said Canada has a particular edge when it comes to energy storage technology. A June 2016 report by the group profiled 10 companies developing and testing energy storage systems using flywheels, compressed air, thermal, hydrogen and battery systems.
There are 11 Canadian firms on the 2017 Global Cleantech 100 List by San Francisco-based Cleantech Group, five of which are in the clean energy field, the report also points out, including one in energy storage, Corvus Energy.
“We see numerous Canadian companies in the storage space, like Hydrostor and NRStor. They are at the cutting edge of energy storage, which is likely to emerge as a really significant component of electricity systems, particularly in countries that don’t have hydro,” he said.
Engineering capacity, or how to integrate renewables into the electricity grid, as well as services like software to manage smart grids, are other areas where Canada could excel, he said.
"There's a lot more heat than light" with Trump's coal promise, says Clean Energy Canada
In the next three years, China intends to double its solar power capacity relative to 2015, to 110 gigawatts (GW), and boost its wind power by half, to 210 GW, the report states. It expects to invest $480 billion to do so.
Meanwhile, India is hoping to triple its capacity to 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022, a feat expected to require almost $133 billion.
In the U.S., President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday initiating a review of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan restricting coal-fired power emissions.
Asked about Trump’s executive order on CTV Power Play Wednesday, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who was in New York on Monday promoting "potential investment opportunities in the renewable and clean-technology sector" at the Wall Street Green Summit, said the industry is trending towards renewables.
"Business are looking at what are the new opportunities in renewables,” she said. “The market has moved towards renewables, towards clean growth, and businesses know that. They want the certainty, they want to make sure they’re doing the right thing, but they see the real business opportunity.”
The U.S. made close to $60 billion in clean energy investment in 2016, its second-best year ever, the report states, and clean tech appears to be bipartisan: it says the top 10 wind-energy producing Congressional districts are represented by Republicans.
“There’s a lot more heat than light when President Trump says he’s going to bring back coal jobs,” said Woynillowicz.
“For starters, his effort to cancel the clean power plan is going to be a process that will wind its way through the courts for years—it probably won’t even be done by the end of his first term,” he said.
In addition, regardless of the short-term policy environment, U.S. utilities will have to make long-term investment decisions for a new piece of infrastructure, said Woynillowicz, and increasingly they are choosing gas, wind or solar after considering the trend of the coal industry over time.
Renewables in Alberta and Saskatchewan an opportunity
Woynillowicz said he “fully anticipates” that the “full suite” of Canadian renewable energy developers active in B.C., Ontario and Quebec will be keen to get into Alberta and Saskatchewan’s efforts to move on renewables.
As for Trump’s plan to bring back coal jobs in America, he said he doesn’t see it affecting Alberta’s plan to phase out coal.
“It’s to the benefit of Canadians from a health perspective to be phasing out coal-fired power,” he said.