CEO Interview: ‘No Silver Bullet’ To Emissions Reduction, ‘Portfolio’ Needed

Justin Riemer.

Existing technologies will be vital to the pace at which greenhouse gas emission reduction targets are met, said the new chief executive officer of Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA).

The not-for-profit corporation announced earlier this month that it has tapped Justin Riemer as its next CEO. His previous role was assistant deputy minister, prairies economic development, Alberta region for the Government of Canada.

“I think there are a lot of technologies out there in various stages of development and the challenge is getting them ready for deployment in the field as quickly as possible,” Riemer told the DOB, adding “ERA serves a role in that.”

That last mile hurdle is often a challenge in the innovation system.

“I think the speed of reaching decarbonization goals is going to depend on availability of mature technologies and the ability to scale current supply chains,” he added. “We’ll see the adoption of new technologies to be sure, but we’ll also need to see large scale adoption of existing and proven technologies in the future.”

His vision for funding emissions reduction-focused innovation is wide-reaching.

“There is no silver bullet technology for greenhouse gas reduction,” said Riemer. “It requires a portfolio approach across a number of technologies and timescales. There’s a number of areas that we have already invested in and need to do more of into the future to achieve GHG reductions.”

He called advancement of carbon capture and sequestration a major focus.

“There’s huge potential and huge opportunities in Alberta,” said Riemer. He noted, while CCUS is often singularly linked to oilsands, it relates to all major industrial processes, citing cement and ammonia as examples.

“I think Alberta is and will continue to be a CCUS leader into the future,” he added.

Riemer said he also sees “momentum” in hydrogen and believes “ERA will play a role there.”

“Creation and storage of low-emitting electricity, the bioenergy sector, biofuels, there’s a lot of opportunity there,” he added. “Even technologies to help large heavy industrial emitters implement more energy efficient upgrades — those are just some examples of things I think we need to take a broad portfolio approach on for investment into the future.”

Direct air capture is an emerging emissions reduction tool that pulls carbon dioxide directly out of the air. While Riemer said he does not have a lot of experience with this technology, he called it an “interesting” medium and long-term strategic opportunity for the province. 

“I think, as we move into the future, there are emission sources that are just too expensive to reduce all the way to net zero,” he said. “We need to be looking at a variety of different technology plays.”

“ERA has already invested in a couple of direct air capture projects and is working with the global innovation community to bring down the cost of the technologies. I think there is more work to be done there but that’s certainly an area we are open to and assessing and investing in already.”

Many economists have said Alberta, with its transferrable experience and expertise in the oil and gas industry, has the makings to be an energy transition hub. Riemer sees this, too, and sees ERA playing a part in this.

“We are most certainly a national leader and have a lot of learnings and global leadership” in areas such as CCUS, Reimer said. “I think hydrogen is another one we’re going to see take off.”

“I think ERA’s job is to help enable, catalyze, and provide financing to deploy and adopt a lot those technologies, prove a lot of those technologies,” he added.

Spread the word

He wants to see a brighter light placed on current and future achievements by Alberta-based companies in the energy transition.  

“There is very little awareness out there amongst the general public of the amazing things that are already being done in terms of energy transformation in this province and we have a fantastic story to tell,” Riemer said. “I want to enable ambassadors of our energy transition story across the province.

“It’s not enough just for ERA to go out and get the word out on the great things happening on emission reduction and energy transformation, we need to equip people of all walks of life, at all levels, to tell their neighbours, their colleagues, their peers, speaking at conferences, you name it, about the opportunity Alberta has and what leadership we have already been displaying.

“Not just within Alberta — I think it’s important for Albertans to understand what ERA has been able to achieve, and more importantly, what the projects we have invested in have been able to achieve — we [also] have to get that story told more nationally and internationally,” he continued.  

Riemer dubs himself a life-long economic developer and said he’s excited about drawing from this experience and expertise while, at the same time, improving environmental outcomes.

“It’s an ‘and’ not an ‘or’,” Riemer said of the focus of his role. “The two do not have to be mutually-exclusive.”

“I spent a number of years in Alberta’s innovation ecosystem helping provide funding into it, providing leadership, guidance and strategy, development, filling gaps,” he added. “I see this as a real compliment in my career in terms of what ERA does and really, I’m just excited to go in and build on the strong foundation that has already been established in ERA in terms of some significant investments into major projects.”

Working with government

Riemer said there are opportunities to gain clarity around provincial and federal government policy.

“I know ERA has already had some great partnerships with federal government, we’re looking to amplify that further and particularly with new program design, the new federal climate change plan and how ERA may be able to provide some gap-filling support into the sum of that transitionary work, I think is going to be of interest and a big focus for me and the team over the next little while,” he said.

He also singled out the challenge of understanding where the market is going, adding “post-pandemic, there is a lot of fluctuation in the marketplace — [we need to know] how are we going to align the funding and some of our priorities focus based on industry transformation and fluctuating market dynamics.”

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