How clean technology can save Canadian manufacturing

Alterra Power Corp. | BCBusiness
Alterra Power Corp.’s Dokie wind project in Northeast B.C.

Canada’s manufacturing exports fell $27 billion in the last decade. Industry experts think cleantech can reverse that figure

Canada’s burgeoning clean technology sector was the focus of a panel Thursday night hosted by the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver.

The country’s clean technology industry—which includes companies in transportation, power generation, recycling, and even oil and gas waste management—employed 41,000 in 2012 and contributed $11.3 billion to Canada’s GDP.

Moreover, the industry, which is dominated by small companies, draws more than half its revenue from exports, which could grow to $32 billion in a decade.

“When you speak to economists, it’s news to them that small companies can be deeply innovative, focused on international markets,” said Céline Bak, an analyst at Ottawa-based Analytica Advisors. “They aren’t exporting kitchen cabinets.”

But federal neglect could lessen the opportunity, said Bak. Unlike more established industries, clean technology is not officially recognized by federal agencies such as Industry Canada. Government loan guarantees, increased access to debt and higher research and development spending, could all contribute significantly to sector growth, said Bak. “If the federal government doesn’t make it a national priority, it will do fine, but it won’t grow to the size of aerospace.”

Bak shared three reasons why the government should take cleantech more seriously: one fifth of employees in the sector are under 30, its global value is set to grow from $1 trillion to $2.5 trillion by 2022, and most importantly it helps fight climate change.

Of the $207 billion invested globally in clean technology last year, Canada accounted for $6.5 billion, noted Ross Beaty, chairman of Alterra Power Corp. and a mining industry veteran.

Clean technology is just as much an opportunity for Canadian manufacturers as it is for end-users. The costs of clean technology have fallen dramatically in the last decade: since 2004, the cost of wind power installations fell by 50 per cent, and solar panels 80 per cent.

“In B.C., we have a lot of fossil fuel-based power that we must eliminate,” said Beatty. “One of the solutions is clean technology.