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Canada places 7th in creating green-tech firms

The Peribonka hydroelectric power plant northeast of Lac St-Jean, Que. The WWF cited Canada's vast clean technology potential, partly in our water resources for hydroelectric power.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Canada ranks among the top 10 countries worldwide when it comes to spawning clean technology companies, despite scant support for the sector from the federal government.

A new report by the World Wildlife Fund and the multinational research firm Cleantech Group LLC rates 38 countries by their abilities to commercialize start-up green-tech firms. Denmark and Israel lead the rankings, the United States lands in fifth place, and Canada comes in seventh.

The study says that clean technology innovations will be scaling up quickly in the next 10 to 30 years, as the focus shifts from hydrocarbons to renewable energy. It has tried to measure where innovative companies are most likely to emerge.

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Effective commercialization of this technology requires a combination of academic research, private finance, government policy and market demand, the report says.

Canada ranks high because of an entrepreneurial culture, relatively high patent activity and existing corporate activity in the green-tech sector. But the federal government's reluctance to support the industry is a drawback, the report says. Indeed, Canada's rank is a surprise, it says, because the country has "a poor reputation at a federal level for political leadership on climate change."

Fortunately, said Josh Laughren, WWF Canada's director of climate and energy, there are supportive provincial policies that help bolster the sector, including Ontario's Green Energy Act, Nova Scotia's subsidies for local renewable projects, and Quebec's commitment to building an electric vehicle industry.

Canada also has vast clean technology potential, in our water resources (for hydroelectric power), a land mass that can accommodate large solar and wind projects, and huge stores of biomass.

Mr. Laughren said the country also has important educational institutions such as the University of Waterloo's Institute for Sustainable Energy, the clean-tech section of the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, and many energetic entrepreneurs.

While the federal government "really seems to have set its teeth on accessing foreign markets for bitumen," over the long term the global market will inevitably shift toward renewables, he predicted. Canada needs to be a leader in this area because "other nations will buy our bitumen only as long as they have to."

The WWF report said Denmark got the number one spot when it comes to commercializing clean-tech start-ups because of a very supportive environment that includes substantial public R&D spending, and a strong track record of getting products to market and scaling them up for international consumption.

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The report ranks emerging countries such as India and China below the top 10 (they are at 12 and 13, respectively), but it projects these nations will rise through the ranks in the coming years because they have strong clean-tech production, along with "increasingly supportive governments, large sums of private money ready to be invested, and massive domestic markets."

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About the Author
Reporter, Report on Business

Richard Blackwell has reported on Canadian business for more than three decades. At the Financial Post and the Globe and Mail he has covered technology, transportation, investing, banking, securities and media, among many other subjects. Currently, his focus is on green technology and the economy. More

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