Cleantech is at a crossroads

Cleantech is at a crossroads

Canada’s cleantech industry stands at a crossroads. While the challenges that clean technology startups face are real, they are not impossible to overcome. The numbers in “The 2011 Canadian Clean Technology Industry Report” by Analytica Advisors help paint the picture.

Of course, the cynics out there can also use these numbers. It’s true the report indicates that 92% of the cleantech industry is made up of small- and medium-size enterprises generating less than $50 million in revenues and that 60% of the industry reported revenues under $5 million. It’s also true that 2010 counted division revenues from foreign-owned companies as 14% of the total revenue. 

Perhaps the greatest challenge to cleantech remains regionalization. Atlantic Canada accounts for only 7% of Canada’s clean technology companies, while British Columbia and Ontario hold over half of the companies in the industry, numbers that pose a real challenge to the cleantech industry. Without a direct, private-public effort to generate jobs and wealth creation in this young industry, we may not see any major shifts in these numbers for a generation.

The good news

Here’s the good news: One of the major strengths Canadian industry is its creativity. Ontario’s Green Energy Act is a great example of it. Progress is being made, and it’s occurring in the most unlikely places. While 7% may seem like a tiny number for Atlantic Canada, the long-term trend tells a different story—the number is rising, and quickly.

It is not expected that we will see a decline in our cleantech sector. In fact, it is expected—against all of the media buzz over oil prices and pipelines—that our cleantech sector will begin to boom. However, it will take, if you’ll forgive theexpression, sustainable efforts from the cleantech industry across Canada to make this happen. That means picking winning ideas and giving them the tools they need to succeed.

MaRS Discovery District is hosting a Future of Energy summit on June 8, 2012. With an all-star cast of speakers from the public and private sectors—and an accompanying video contest, inviting people to submit a Big Energy Idea—the conference should spark a real conversation about the cleantech industry in Ontario.

As a student who attends school in Atlantic Canada, I will be looking for ideas that could serve as an example to New Brunswick and the rest of the East Coast. Don’t listen to the cynics: All regions of Canada can contribute to the cleantech boom in this country.

If there is one lesson that the global economy has taught us in the last few years, it’s that we should not count out Canada.

The real cleantech challenge remains to generate industry at home and create an equal stake in this young sector in all regions and for all Canadians. It’s on this platform that we should build our industry. We’re certainly up to the challenge.