The global economy for clean energy is surging, but Canada is missing out, according to a new report on the top 10 trends driving and defining the world-wide renewable market.
Canada’s market share of the global clean energy market has dropped five points in the last year, the most compared to the other 24 largest exporting countries. In fact, when it comes to clean energy exports, the Czech Republic now beats Canada.
The lost opportunities cost Canada CAD$8.7 billion in 2013 alone, according to a new report titled Tracking the Energy Revolution: Global 2015.
The Vancouver-based climate and energy think tank, Clean Energy Canada, released the report on Tuesday morning.
“Canada is somewhat missing in action in the transition to the global clean energy future,” Clean Energy Canada’s executive director, Merran Smith, told the National Observer during a phone interview.
“We have a huge opportunity. We have enormous clean energy potential. The clean energy sector in Canada has been growing, but we’re punching way below our weight.”
Federal government still backing fossil fuels
Just what a light-weight Canada is in the marketplace becomes apparent from the report.
In 2014 the global clean energy market – which encompasses everything from solar panels and turbines to biofuels and smart grids – brought in CAD$790 billion. The market is projected to more than double to CAD$1.8 trillion over the next seven years.
Canada’s share of that market last year amounted to CAD$7 billion or 0.9 per cent of the global market.
The problem is the federal government is still backing fossil fuels rather than renewable energy.
Smith says the Canadian clean energy sector hasn’t seen “huge support” from the Stephen Harper government. She notes that every other major industrial sector in the country has gotten targeted federal support, from the aerospace industry to the oil sands, to export their product.
“The clean energy sector needs that kind of targeted government support,” Smith said. “What we’re seeing is this global shift to clean and renewable energy is really picking up speed and going into high gear, and Canada doesn’t want to be left on the sidelines.
“What we’ve seen to date is the government really putting all its eggs into the oil and gas basket and not looking at the whole energy playing field.”
Trends in tech, policy and business
The report breaks the trends into three broad areas of technology, policy and business.
Some of the other global trends it highlights include carbon pricing, which it says is quickly becoming the “new normal;” the announcement of car manufacturer Tesla’s Gigafactory, which could cause a revolution in battery power; and the levelng off of carbon emissions in 2014, which the report attributes to the rise in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
While global greenhouse gas emissions stalled in 2014 – the first time in 40 years they stopped increasing without help from an economic downturn – the International Energy Agency believes emissions will continue to rise next year.
“But efforts to mitigate the damage may be making more of a dent than previously believed,” the report noted.
Danny Harvey, a professor of geography and an author of books on renewable energy, agreed with Smith that a leadership is lacking at the federal level when it comes to clean energy.
“This is the thing that’s really lacking, is we need a coordinated national strategy for renewables to displace fossil fuels.”
Pockets of activity limited to the provinces
Harvey pointed to pockets of activity provincially, with wind in Manitoba, wind and solar in the southern prairies, wind in the James Bay region of Ontario and wind and hydro in Quebec and Labrador. But he said federal leadership is needed to build east and west high-voltage transmission links to link them together.
Harvey said that while Tesla’s lithium ion batteries, which will be used to power electric vehicles, have a role, he said any true sustainable transportation system should rely heavily on public transit, cycling and walking in order to create pedestrian-oriented cities.
And while Harvey applauded the rise of renewables to the point where it stalled greenhouse gas emission increases, he argues what really should have happened is that the G7 leaders should have set an intermediate reduction goal for the elimination of fossil fuels at their last meeting.
He maintains that the goal should be to reduce global emissions by at least 50, if not 80, per cent by 2050. In Canada, that would mean an 80 per cent reduction, according to Harvey.
“That’s only 35 years from now,” he said. “It could be done. It would take an all-out crash program and it would have to be the number one issue in the next federal election, which I don’t think it will be.”
The report also offered a number of recommendations. First, it said Canada needs to make clean energy a trade priority.
“The clean energy economy is the economy of the future,” the report declared. “It’s the horse our federal government needs to back with strategic supportive policy instead of assuming, as it does now, that the oil industry is the only thoroughbred on the track.”
Secondly, the report called for the country to collaborate with other clean energy leaders. The United States has been actively signing climate diplomacy deals with other jurisdictions while Canada sulks in the shadows.
Noted the report: “Though Ottawa did sign a trilateral clean energy deal with the United States and Mexico…unlike his partners, the federal natural resources minister made no mention of climate change in his statement.”
Finally, the report said Canada needs to play a constructive role in the Paris 2015 Climate Talks. “Before negotiations get to crunch time, Canada needs to have a clear plan to deliver on its new target.”
Concluded the report: “We can’t afford to be offside, and we can’t afford to be on the outside.”