Janice Tran transforms waste energy into money.

As the founder of Kanin Energy, she works with heavy industry to reduce and harness wasted energy generated from their industrial processes for their own use so they draw less from the grid.

The savings in money and emissions are substantial.

This piece is part of a series of profiles highlighting young people across the country who are addressing the climate crisis. These extraordinary humans give me hope. I write these stories to pay it forward.

Tell us about your company.

Alberta’s electric power comes primarily from burning fossil fuels. Until recently, since energy was cheap and emissions not so concerning, industrial processes were designed without much attention to wasted energy. But times have changed and companies want more efficient, cleaner technology. Our company helps industry monetize its wasted energy and reduce its need to buy electricity.

Industry saves money and fossil-fuelled electricity demand is reduced.

How is your offer being received?

It is very common now to meet leading executives who have been mandated by their boards and shareholders to participate in the energy transition away from fossil fuels. As managers of substantial companies responsible for employees' livelihoods and investor returns, they are sometimes understandably concerned about unfamiliar technologies even if they show great promise in helping achieve their mandates.

While our approach does deliver reduced costs and emissions, we also see ourselves as providing a safe first step towards a more wholescale participation in the transition. It is my hope and expectation that having seen results from this first step, they will be emboldened to go further and faster in the future.

As the founder of Kanin Energy, Janice Tran works with heavy industry to reduce and harness wasted energy generated from their industrial processes for their own use so they draw less from the grid. #YouthClimateAction
Janice Tran on a hike in the Rockies. Kanin Energy is headquartered in Calgary. Photo by Ryan Turner

How did you come to start this company?

Although I have worked on both Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, I always knew I wanted to come home to Calgary. Like so many young people here, I love the complexity and dynamism of the energy sector but I have always known I wanted to be part of the transition to a more sustainable future.

I wanted to bring what I learned outside Canada to support the energy transition happening in Alberta.

After I graduated from university and was awarded my accounting designation, I spent time in New York learning how the world of finance could help enable renewables. Then I went on to work in California for one of the leaders in sustainable finance, investing in emerging renewable energy projects. I jumped at the chance to come home after friends of mine in Calgary encountered the technology we use and asked me to help them bring it to market by starting this company.

What makes your work challenging?

Startups are always challenging. It would be nice if there was more strategic help from government for companies not just working on research and development, but looking to scale their business in the sustainable energy sector. Lots of technologies exist now to meet the climate challenge, but we need new business models and help getting that to scale.

What brought you into sustainable energy?

I studied philosophy with a focus on ethics and commerce in university. I believe if we can increase efficiency and reduce harm, we should. Climate change is the fundamental issue of our generation. It is such a significant threat that it also offers vast opportunities for both well-being and wealth creation. Why would we choose any other path?

A group work session in the early days of Janice Tran’s startup Kanin Energy. Photo by Janice Tran

How did the way you were raised affect your career decisions?

My grandparents went to Vietnam as refugees from China. My parents and I came to Canada as refugees from the American war in Vietnam. Refugees know what it is to lose everything in the blink of an eye and turn around and seize opportunities others do not recognize. We mitigate risks with hard work and discipline.

There is a certain fearlessness in my blood that is part of their legacy to me. I think of it as grit and self-reliance.

When we arrived in Calgary, care for the environment was not top of mind for my family. But surrounded by Alberta’s natural beauty, and with the relative security life in Canada offered them and their children, they could easily adopt the widely held Canadian values of appreciation and respect for nature.

They taught me to respect myself and passed on one of the survival skills of refugees: if a better idea comes along, it is wise to adopt it.

Do you have any advice for other young people?

Meeting world emissions reduction targets requires a complete overhaul of Canada’s energy systems and offers almost unlimited opportunity to our generation to align our values, our need to contribute and our financial well-being. The transition is so huge and so urgent that all ideas are on the table. No matter your skillset or interest, if you want to be part of it, you are needed.

What would you like to say to older readers?

The energy transition is not just the ethical imperative of our age — it is also a risk to be mitigated. It will happen or we will not have a habitable planet.

To allow it to happen without you is to refuse unparalleled opportunities for wealth and well-being. To drag against it is unethical as well as dubious financial management. You would be wise to be on board.