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Canada falling behind clean tech competition

A man walks by an electric car plug during the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada's TestFest 2012 Canadian Car of the Year Awards in Niagara-on-the-Lake on Thursday, October 27, 2011. (Michelle Siu for AJAC)

Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

Canadian clean tech companies continue to record stellar growth but are falling behind global competitors in the absence of a co-ordinated government strategy to boost exports.

This country's share of the global market for manufactured environmental goods fell by 41 per cent between 2005 and 2013, Analytica Advisors said in a report to be released Wednesday.

Though exports grew to $12-billion by 2013, Canada dropped from 14th place to 19th place, outpaced by countries including Spain, Denmark and Malaysia. China leaped from third place in 2005 to first in 2013, doubling its share to a stunning 20 per cent of the export market.

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Over all, the annual Analytica report shows the clean tech sector has posted an impressive 8-per-cent compounded annual growth rate in revenues between 2011 and 2013, an increase that occurred even as the global economy struggled. Between 2012 and 2013, employment in the Canadian sector grew by 9,000 jobs to a total of 50,000 – putting it on a par with the aerospace industry.

Clean technology includes renewable energy such as wind and solar, but also equipment and processes that reduce pollution and contribute to the more efficient production and consumption of resources.

Clean-energy investment rose 16 per cent to $310-billion (U.S.) last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Countries are competing fiercely for that market, which is expected to expand rapidly as the world looks to reduce its reliance on greenhouse-gas-emitting fossil fuels and adjust to the impact of climate change and water crises.

"We all need to step up – the private sector and the public sector," said Céline Bak, president of Analytica Advisors. "With the public sector, both at the provincial and federal levels, there is an opportunity and we need to grab it while the markets are growing, and while we have great companies that can provide solutions to some of the prickly problems that are posed by climate change and environmental degradation."

Ms. Bak said successful countries are pursuing a "whole of government" approach that looks beyond financing startups – an area where Ottawa has provided important support – to incorporate trade policy, export promotion, intellectual property, and energy and environmental regulation. She applauded this week's announcement from Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford that Canada, the United States and Mexico have established working groups to co-ordinate the development and deployment of clean-energy technology.

In a call from Mexico, Mr. Rickford said the trilateral effort will play an important role in helping the countries to meet their climate change commitments. The federal government recently pledged that Canada would reduce its emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. It's a target Mr. Rickford called "fair and ambitious," though critics argue it doesn't go far enough and the government has offered no plan to achieve it.

"Canada sees tremendous potential to make North America a leader in clean energy," Mr. Rickford said on the conference call. He noted Canada has one of the fastest growing domestic markets for clean energy technology. Last year alone, there was $8-billion (Canadian) in investment in renewable energy, a 23-per-cent increase from 2013.

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But the Analytica report said Canadian companies can't rely on the domestic market alone. Indeed, 83 per cent of companies surveyed expect to be exporting in 2015. The World Trade Organization is leading an effort to reach agreement on eliminating tariffs from manufactured environmental goods in order to reduce the cost of deployment. If successful, the export market will become even more competitive.

Some Canadian companies are succeeding in foreign markets, and have built on that success to expand their presence at home.

Vancouver-based Westport Innovations Inc. has joint ventures and partnerships in the United States and China that are driving its business of providing natural gas engines for trucks and other vehicles. Westport and its partners targeted foreign markets that are most afflicted by smog and vehicle pollution, and whose governments have imposed clean air regulations, said Karen Hamberg, the company's vice-president of strategy.

Canada has been active in developing the domestic market for natural gas vehicles, but less aggressive than jurisdictions such as China and California, she said. Federal and provincial governments need to look across the spectrum for policies that will provide incentives for the clean tech industry.

"It's a broad sector and it's worthy, and it's time for a real co-ordinated strategic approach," Ms. Hamberg said.

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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