Avatar: Future Energy Leaders See The Glass Half Full


As the global energy sector conceives a new, and disruptive, path towards a low carbon future — there are some who are viewing this paradigm shift as the glass being half empty.

But we see the glass half full. And it’s being filled by the talent, creativity and vision of Canada’s next generation of energy leaders.

The challenge of climate change, and the energy sector’s role in addressing the need to lower emissions is the single biggest science project in a generation. We are literally talking about re-powering the world. To get there, we need innovation, investment and collaboration on a scale not seen in decades.

This past year has seen the indomitable power of collaborative science. Faced with a crippling pandemic enveloping the globe, virologists, geneticists, and researchers raced around the clock to work together - across borders, disciplines and industries to find a solution to an existential threat to our planet’s population and economy. The result – a vaccine in a record-breaking time.

A similar analogy can be applied to how we can — and must — address the climate change. As Canada’s Supreme Court Justice Richard Wagner wrote in the decision handed down that upheld the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, “….climate change is an existential challenge. It is a threat of the highest order to the country, and indeed to the world.”

Lost in today’s anti-energy narrative is a compelling fact, that the business of energy is unique in its need for every scientific discipline —from geology, math and physics, to chemistry, hydrology and biology — and which now also demands other skills long considered outside the purview of the energy world, including communications, anthropology, history and politics.

The good news is our country’s brightest young minds are busy at work.

The winter 2021 cohort in the Avatar Program recently wrapped up its session — the ground breaking initiative where 270 emerging leaders at 67 companies from eight provinces raced across 10 weeks building 45 business and technology solutions to unlock key elements to make the energy transition a success for the sector and the environment.

Working together as semi-autonomous, multi-functional teams under the guidance of visionary leadership from Virgin Galactic, X-Prize, Microsoft and UCalgary faculty, their projects clearly demonstrated the path forward requires a broad suite of disciplines and includes working with and respecting the Indigenous peoples who live alongside the resource. The highly transformative energy industry requires new approaches to innovation that don’t discount safety or capitalization, and these approaches must be built collaboratively. The old world of silos, and doing it alone, is gone.

The final winning team — NaBCO — comprised of members, Duminda Randeniya, Katherine Sheriff, Marina Muencrath, Rabia Ladha, Sherman Tsang and Tracy Longpre employed across sectors by Enbridge Inc., TC Energy Corporation, Fluor Canada and the British Consulate General — created a transformational business solution using Nature Based Climate Solutions, unlocking a major solution for the decarbonization of energy.

Vetted by industries’ most senior executives, the team demonstrated that when we work together in new ways, we can solve the biggest issues of our time.

From this Avatar cohort, it’s clear the leaders will be those who adapt, collaborate and take the risks needed to be part of the multitrillion-dollar shift towards cleaner, greener and more efficient energy systems.

“Cross-functional collaboration and education helps builds a skilled workforce for the future, and increases economic development,” said Byron Neiles, EVP of corporate services, Enbridge. “Our continued support of the Avatar Program will make a lasting contribution to the energy sector, the environment and the communities we live and operate in across the nation.”

The oil and gas industry is not the oil and gas industry of the past. It’s enabling its employees to work on the biggest opportunity of our lifetime through entrepreneurial initiatives like Avatar. As one of the emerging professionals who completed the program said, “the energy transition is starting to feel like working at Google.”

“Avatar provides a unique way to bring together some of the brightest minds from across disciplines and organizations in the energy sector to meet these challenges head on. We all need to engage differently to find solutions that will achieve Canada’s climate goals and create economic prosperity,” says Martha Hall Findlay, chief sustainability officer, Suncor Energy Inc.

Indeed, with the truly staggering amount of investment required to solve climate change, the energy sector is starting to feel like the new internet — the greatest and most competitive opportunity of our time.

Wayne Gretzky famously said you miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take. What Canada needs is to take as many shots as possible and as NaBCO showed us, we’re just getting started.

Debroah Yedlin is the chancellor of the University of Calgary and a director of Avatar Innovations. Kevin Krausert is the CEO and co-founder of Avatar Innovations.

Below is a collection of coverage from this just-completed session of the Avatar Program:

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