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

This is the second in a three-part series. For other articles in the series, click the links below:

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

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

A ‘champion’ is what Calgary requires if it is to become the recognized Canadian Centre of Excellence for clean technology and new energy, says Monica Gattinger, Positive Energy chair and the University of Ottawa’s director for the Institute for Science, Society and Policy.

“You always need somebody or a small group of somebodies who think this is a really important idea and a very important initiative to pursue,” she told the Bulletin. “It’s because usually what you’re doing when you create these initiatives is you’re looking at what is already taking place. What are the opportunities to better leverage and better mobilize existing activities, but with more focus through a Centre of Excellence approach?”

She added: “It takes a thought leader who thinks this is an important initiative to undertake, pulls together all those who might benefit from such an initiative. And then, of course, funding becomes really important, and moving that into business, government and academic practice becomes really important, but that early first step is really about leadership and somebody being a champion for the whole idea.”

Kevin Krausert, chief executive officer and co-founder of Avatar Innovations Inc., told the DOB that industry must lead the charge when it comes to establishing Calgary as a Centre of Excellence. He suggested not-for-profits simply would lack the necessary understanding of “market needs and pulls” to make this idea work.

“I think government does have a role to play, and I believe that academia has a massive role to play as well, but the energy transition ecosystem in Calgary needs to be singularly focused on generating returns and lowering emissions.”

Role of governments

Establishing Calgary as a recognized Centre of Excellence for cleantech and new energy in part requires positive relationships between the local oil and gas industry and environmentalist groups, according to Duane Bratt, political science professor at Mount Royal University.

He told the DOB that while previous provincial governments under the leadership of then-premiers Jim Prentice and Rachel Notley tried to facilitate such connections, these efforts have reversed in recent years. Bratt said environmentalists simply will not interact with the current Alberta government given issues around the so-called “energy war room,” the Allan inquiry, and the province’s demonizing of these environmental groups.

“That’s a major problem,” he added. “And so, creating an arm’s-length group that can rebuild trust and relationships is important.”

He believes it takes all levels of government to establish the city as a Centre of Excellence.

Brad Parry, interim president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development, said CED’s job is to ensure the City of Calgary is well positioned for long-term economic success. On the Centre of Excellence front, it means “telling the stories of the amazing work” occurring locally in order to attract relevant companies in cleantech and new energy.

“When you think about what our mandate really is around this, it’s … to make sure the right kinds of companies are coming in here, building and growing, and really building out their markets. It’s the talent piece.”

From an economic development perspective, he added, establishing a “talent pipeline” is key, and that represents a role that Parry and CED can play when it comes to helping the city attract companies. Also, CED helps “start to grow that ecosystem” by connecting new and established players. “At the end of the day, it comes down to alignment.”

In terms of industry support, Parry noted, traditional oil and gas companies increasingly are becoming technology focused and committed to new forms of energy and reducing emissions. “The more we accelerate that flywheel, the better it’ll be and the quicker it’ll become the globally-recognized Centre of Excellence for this kind of industry.”

Understanding collaborative culture

One challenge to establishing Calgary as a Canadian Centre of Excellence perhaps is the (occasional) lack of a collaborative culture between stakeholder groups, suggested Gattinger, whereby it can be difficult for those within industry, academia and governments to fully appreciate the operating context of one another.

Because stakeholders all operate within different institutional structures, and their incentives do not always align for that collaboration, making sure there is a really strong will among the people to work together and overcome those institutional or cultural hurdles is key, she said, adding that funding is an issue as well, as is ensuring money actually goes towards supporting the sort of research, innovation and collaboration that must occur.

“That hurdle would have to be crossed, as well as identifying the part [about] where the funding would come from. I would see those as the two big pieces.”

As for Krausert, he anticipates that a movement will occur to establish some relevant stakeholder collaboration in the relatively near future — within the next 12 months. In the meantime, the Avatar CEO recommends that Calgarians start using ‘carbon-tech’ instead of the more common ‘cleantech’ terminology, as the latter does not necessarily involve the lowering of carbon emissions or even energy, and it also implies something dirty to be transitioned out of existence.

“What we’re truly talking about is carbon-tech — anything decreasing the carbon intensity of the energy supplies. That’s what the city needs to own, and we already are.”


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