The human factor, not the technology itself, is slowing down the pace of the adoption of new technologies, a North American Women in Energy forum heard Thursday.

“It’s the mindset and the fear factor,” Cara Wolf, chief executive officer of Ammolite Strategies Inc., a management consultant firm, said during a luncheon panel discussion on the future face of Alberta energy. “The technology is here and has been for a long time — AI (artificial intelligence) has been around for at least 10 years if not longer.”

There’s a need for “the allowability of failure — that it’s okay to try and fail with measured risk because through measured failure comes learning and we can iterate faster,” she said in response to a question about how to expedite the movement of technologies from concept to commercialization.

“We need to have a mindset of investment in these technologies and in the future minds and brains that are bringing these technologies to the forefront,” said Wolf. A lot of the ideas, she said, come from very bright young people who perhaps don’t have the wisdom that a senior executive brings to the table. “There needs to be a pairing of the new idea with the experience of the tried and true that knows what really does work.”

Asked about technology breakthroughs that would change the energy landscape in Alberta, Wolf said that as an advisory board member for the Energy New Venture Competition at the University of Calgary, in the last six months alone she has looked at more than 300 concept ideas for the early-stage pitch competition, with new ideas on how to bring about efficiencies in the energy industry.

“And it’s not just young people, it’s people in transition — the laid off vice-presidents or laid off petroleum engineers that are transitioning into skills in geothermal, lithium technologies, different ways of solar integration, different means of using IT technologies,” she said. “There’s a lot of very cool, very innovative conversations that are happening every day.”

While acknowledging that the idea of an energy mix of 50 per cent renewables by 2030 is a pretty big goal, it’s a goal to aim for and “it’s important that we take a look at all technologies and evaluate them,” Wolf told the forum. “There’s going to be a blended transition but we are not going to get rid of fossil fuels, I don’t think, any time soon.”

Claire Galvin, chief petroleum engineer at Husky Energy Inc., and another panel member, noted that many people would agree that coal fired power generation is being pushed out by renewables. The question, she said, is by 2040 what percentage will be renewables. Currently renewable energy sources such as solar, hydro, wind and geothermal currently account for less than 10 per cent of the global energy mix, the forum heard.

“But still they are going to grow in Alberta and I think Canada as a whole for sure,” she said.

Galvin also agreed that the Canadian energy industry has demonstrated tremendous technology improvements over the years. “I don’t think there’s a single technology out there that’s going to do it [change the energy landscape],” she said. “I think the industry is absolutely driven to find a way to make SAGD more energy efficient with lower carbon emissions and there’s a lot of technologies that currently are in various stages.”

All the major companies are involved in various joint ventures looking at those areas and there is lots of collaboration with various academic institutions, according to Galvin. “I think the track record is collaboration between government enterprises, academia, private entrepreneurs and oil companies and I think that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

Deanna Burgart, president and chief operating officer of Indigenous Engineering Inclusion Inc., said there are so many polarizing conversations about the future of energy that she likes to get beyond those to the end conversation. “What really gets me fired up from a technology standpoint is how do we integrate clean technology into our existing landscape, using solar panels on oil well sites.”

For Burgart, it’s a matter of asking how things can be done differently. “Those are the conversations we need to have.”

Awards

At an earlier reception, Women in Energy announced that Kim Williams, a senior manager at Encana Corporation, had been recognized with an award as Inspirational Team Leader, while Melanie Popp, president of 360 Energy Consultants, had received the Community Champion award.

Williams has been Senior Manager, Dawson South, Peace River Arch & Wheatland development in Northern Operations since December 2016. A chemical engineer, she graduated from the University of Saskatchewan in 2000.

Williams has worked at Encana her entire career, starting as summer student at 19 and then moving into a variety of roles in production, reservoir, development, facilities, and strategic planning. In 2010 she took on her first formal leadership role as a development manager and in 2012 was promoted to Senior Manager of Development. 

From 2013 to 2016, Williams helped execute a number of Encana’s property divestitures and was seconded to the Corporate Strategy Refresh Team leading a review of Encana’s asset portfolio, and developing the Alberta Montney play.

Popp, who started the Women in SPE chapter in Calgary, has made a name for herself in the community for several years by being a stalwart advocate for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).  She was a consultant on a women’s engagement program for SPE International, and an active member of the Women in APEGA committee including key contributions to the “Managing Transitions” document that was adopted nationally.

More recently, after losing her job Popp decided to do something different and started Alberta Innovation Engine, a program designed to elevate and shift the careers of these professionals into sustainable, high-growth career.

Her action attracted the attention of several members of Rainforest AB and together, they pulled together to retain funding from the government of Alberta to create Re-Engage: PivotTech, an event partnered with Calgary Economic Development designed to bring together  unemployed professionals with 70 companies looking to grow and hire in the tech space.