Opinion | This might be the year that Canada starts saying 'yes' to clean energy – StCatharinesStandard.ca


Every innovator knows what “Yes but” means. It’s two words that tell you that while the person you’re pitching understands the problem, they’re not ready to invest in your solution.

You get a lot of “Yes but” when your business is clean technology. Despite the obvious need for it, there have long been enormous barriers to getting new clean tech developed, financed and adopted. Many of them are legitimate and daunting — too different, too impractical, too expensive.s

But we may start hearing less of that little phrase in 2021.

Climate change has reached a tipping point. In the U.S., natural disaster costs doubled last year after an unprecedented confluence of storms and wildfires. One million species are at risk of extinction, according to a recent United Nations report.

For Canada and its innovators, the need for action is increasingly urgent. We see the technical barriers beginning to fall because we all realize the cost of inaction is too great. And so Ottawa has created legally binding climate targets. Investment funds are piling into clean energy. And while U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline will cause economic pain for Alberta and Canada, it’s also ironclad proof of the new dynamic.

The COVID-19 pandemic is another source of pain that’s driving an imperative to build our economic recovery through Canadian clean tech. If we’re going to stimulate our way out of a massive economic crisis, we might as well spend it building a better world, not rebuilding the old one. For our governments — including the federal Liberals, who are expected to make massive investments in green infrastructure this year — that means smart fiscal policy and procurement. It means playing an active role in helping Canadian companies export to other countries. It means tweaking regulations and domestic policies to ease the way for industrial users or consumers.

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The innovation ecosystem needs to do its part to help create the conditions for these outcomes, too — at Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District, we’re working on a national initiative to accelerate the process by building sustainable markets for clean technology.

If we keep at it, tech adoption will finally start falling into place. Deals will be struck, money will trade hands and world-changing ideas will become investments that grow the economy, provide jobs and a cleaner, better world.

I just saw one of those ideas get closer to reality — up close. One of the Canadian clean-tech companies MaRS works with is NRStor, a Canadian clean-tech company led by former Home Depot Canada president Annette Verschuren, who also chairs the MaRS board. Her company has just signed an MOU with the Six Nations of the Grand River and the Canada Infrastructure Bank to build an energy-storage facility that will be the largest of its kind in Canada. In fact, it’ll be one of the largest such facilities anywhere.

Energy storage is the answer to an awful lot of “Yes buts.” It is the key to being able to turn intermittent sources of renewable energy into consistent, on-demand energy sources for large communities and cities. NRStor’s Oneida Energy Storage project is a 250 MW/1,000 MWH facility that will inject a shot of adrenalin straight into Ontario’s creaky energy grid. This one facility would provide enough to power a city of at least 250,000 homes, by banking energy from renewable sources like wind and solar then releasing it during periods of peak demand. This will let the province rely less on gas plants for backup, cutting emissions and saving up to $760 million over the course of its lifetime, at no cost to consumers. It will make Ontario’s power system measurably cleaner, more efficient and more affordable.

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For the Six Nations, it’s an inclusive energy project that will generate profits and benefits directly into an Indigenous community. For the Canada Infrastructure Bank, it’s a key plank in a plan to invest $2.5-billion in clean energy projects across Canada over the next three years.

And for this country’s broader clean-tech industry, it’s a giant win — a sign of big things starting to happen. The barriers are falling. The cost of inaction is too high. The moment is right for adoption. That’s an awful lot of winning, and the signs look good that more is coming.

So hang in there, Canadian clean-tech innovators. After so many years of honing and pitching your ideas, this could be the one when we finally start seeing them become reality. In 2021, we could start hearing less “Yes but” — and more just plain “Yes.”

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Yung Wu is the CEO of MaRS Discovery District





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