Centre Of Excellence: Why Calgary Can Be Seen As Canada’s Cleantech And New Energy Core

This is the first part in a series of three articles this week. For other articles in the series, click the links below:

Connect The Dots: Building A Centre Of Excellence Requires Networks Of Stakeholders, Regions

Champions Wanted: Calgary Needs Leaders To Push For Centre Of Excellence Status

Calgary can become the Canadian Centre of Excellence for clean technology and new energy, with industry, government and academia working together to help the city achieve this recognition, capitalizing on local strengths, according to experts from post-secondary, the energy sector, and local economic development.

“As the world races to decarbonize its energy source, Calgary has some of the most impressive infrastructure anywhere in the world to contribute to that,” Kevin Krausert, chief executive officer and co-founder of Avatar Innovations Inc., told the Bulletin. “The reality is the future of the industry will look much different than it has.”

Even as commodity prices recover from the COVID-19 downturn, he noted, the fact is that Canada’s oil and gas industry must stay focused and realize the world is demanding lower-emissions energy products, and the world-class research facilities at the University of Calgary, and a strong relationship between academia and the province’s energy sector, really can “unlock these emerging technologies and growth opportunities” for the future of the city.

“Where Calgary can play a huge role is on carbon technologies,” he said, adding the city boasts such facilities as the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre, and many locally-based companies are working towards carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) solutions and other means of reducing the emissions-intensity of energy.

“To somehow think we’re going to electrify everything and power everything with solar and wind is a big stretch in my mind. Where the opportunity lies for industry to decarbonize exists within oil and gas, whether that’s hydrogen or geothermal or [CCUS]. We’re already doing it, we’re already researching it, and we’re already investing in it.”

According to Brad Parry, interim president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development, Calgary has been and always will be Canada’s energy capital. In terms of Alberta oil and gas companies, they are increasingly becoming technology firms working on cleantech solutions, and so Calgary becoming a Centre of Excellence in this space is a “no-brainer,” as it is already part of the city’s proverbial DNA.

“If you think about what the traditional oil and gas industry went through nine or 10 years ago, they were forced to rethink how they did their businesses, realizing technology would drive a lot of that, which is really at the core of what will come,” he said, noting Calgary should be a choice destination for those wanting to solve clean energy challenges.

“Our role [at CED] in that process is to tell that story and talk about the vision, but also being that connector. Part of our brand is being that connector of industry and talent, and that’s why talent is one of our [top] priorities. We have invested a lot of time and resources into that transition piece.”

He added: “The great part about where we are positioned geographically is that we have a chance to take advantage of all forms of new energy.”

Duane Bratt, political science professor at Mount Royal University, told the DOB that many people in industry, government and academia are looking for cleantech opportunities, and Calgary is home to many experts in this field, notably within the realm of oil and gas. As such, Calgary is a logical spot to establish a Centre of Excellence. Ottawa, for example, might have some related federal departments, he noted, but Calgary is ideal for convening expertise.

“Calgary is seen as the energy capital. That’s why the [Canada Energy Regulator] is based here. [Establishing a Centre of Excellence] would further solidify this, because if you’re going to reduce emissions, then it has to come from the organizations that are already producing the emissions.”

Establishing the city as a Centre of Excellence for cleantech and new energy can help “knit together” an approach demonstrating how Calgary innovation to reduce emissions and other environmental disturbances benefits Canada as a whole, suggested Monica Gattinger, Positive Energy chair and the University of Ottawa’s director of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy.

“There’s a real opportunity for Calgary to identify particular areas as new energy or lower-emitting energy in which it has expertise, and draw attention to that fact, build around that fact, incentivize collaboration between business, government, academia and civil society on those issues, and really mobilize and leverage existing and emerging expertise. There’s no question to me that there’s a real opportunity there for this space.”

What is a Centre of Excellence?

A Centre of Excellence can be seen as providing leadership, best practices, research, support and/or training for a focus area. In Canada, the Networks of Centres of Excellence offered a suite of programs to mobilize Canada’s best research, development and entrepreneurial expertise and focus it on specific issues and strategic areas.

“That program no longer exists, unfortunately, and so that kind of designation at the federal level is no longer something whereby new centres could be created,” Gattinger told the DOB. “However, the concept of a Centre of Excellence still has meaning for people. If the city wanted to go down that path, then utilizing that terminology is something that people would understand.”

When creating a Centre of Excellence, she noted, it is always done based on existing expertise. In Calgary, this would involve identifying where the city has excelled in energy technologies and innovation, and then establishing the ‘Centre of Excellence’ designation or terminology to mobilize and leverage that advantage. It puts focus on collective efforts to strengthen that research and innovation base through funding, collaborating and partnerships.

“It helps to mobilize energies in a common direction,” she said, adding that business, government, academia and civil society collaborate within a Centre of Excellence to ensure sufficient research is finding its way to appropriate commercial practices.

“Conversely, are we making sure the commercial needs are being known in academia so we have people working on the right solutions, so we’re really creating that pipeline so we have the development of research and innovation that finds its way from the lab and experimental stage, all the way through to commercialization and development?”

When is Centre-of-Excellence status achieved?

A city becomes a Centre of Excellence as it grows its knowledge base, output base, and the new things that it can innovate, develop and are implemented, according to Parry. The designation and recognition of that title comes through the hard work and commitment of passionate community stakeholders finding solutions.

“For me, it’s an exciting time when you’re seeing the marriage of traditional and new coming together and forming these great new programs,” he said. “There is [CCUS], carbon upcycling, and all of these amazing technologies being developed with our existing infrastructure. To me, that just points to a really bright future for us.”

He added: “It’s kind of like a hive mentality. Once you have some of these players starting to recognize what’s here, you start to see these other players start to come in and want to be part of the ecosystem. I think that’s how you get recognized. It’s not necessarily someone telling us how great we are. It’s the underpinning of our ecosystem that basically is becoming a magnet and attraction point for companies who want to take on those global challenges.”

Industry, academia and government are already working together in Calgary around developing cleantech and new energy solutions, noted Bratt. The question is around formalizing those efforts and establishing co-ordination to improve the ability for stakeholders to work together on these solutions.

“That’s what Centres of Excellence have the capacity of doing — helping people meet one another and work with one another, establish partnerships both theoretically and practically.”

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