A panel of notable clean tech experts were on hand at BCTIA’s Clean Tech luncheon, held today at the Sutton Place hotel in downtown Vancouver, explained to a receptive audience what the challenges and opportunities are are for clean tech. Nicholas Parker of the Cleantech Group, Mossadiq Umedaly of BC Hydro, Chrysalix Energy Management president Wal Van Lierop and Steven Cockcroft, the Senior Associate Dean of the faculty of applied science at the University of British Columbia made up the panel.
The first question for the panel was, given the newly low prices of oil and reduction of demand, is clean tech a bubble? Parker said while oil prices are down, when demand comes back oil prices will likely go even higher than they’ve been in the past, and so there’s a real challenge in the short term to prepare for that. He cited Intel’s work on solar panels as something the company clearly wouldn’t do if they weren’t in clean tech for the long term.
Umedaly also pointed to oil prices rising, and said “this isn’t a bubble, it’s a bubble bath. This is forever.” Lierop said that even in the depths of the worst recession in 80 years, oil is still at $45 a barrel, which isn’t cheap. With a blip in demand, oil will fly up, he said. Cockcroft said the main drivers of clean tech are economics and climate change, and even if one discounted climate change the fact remains that we’re using up a non-renewable resource at a very rapid rate.
The panel also tackled the stimulus packages being floated by governments all over the wold to address the economic crisis. Umedaly said while money in such vast quantities can “attract a cast of sordid characters,” his interaction with politicians and policy makers has left him with the feeling that the money will actually be put to productive use. Leidorp said a good analogy for the stimulus is that it is a “man on the moon” project, and that we can either be part of the innovation or “be stuck driving a Lada.”
Parker also pointed to Cisco being founded right after the crash of ’87 in the aftermath of the break-up of AT&T. Clean tech companies wlll emerge from the current crisis on the scale of Cisco, he said.
Liedorf pointed to BC specifically as a place people want to live and work in and as a leader in clean technology, but he stressed the province needs to tell its story more and more often in order to attract more talent. Cockcroft pointed to the expensive development costs of alternative energy, and stressed the importance of support from policy makers to keep developing clean technology. But Parker also ponted to the need to get involved in emerging virtual hubs of clen tech development, and to not rely on geography ut instead employ virtual partnerships between innovators.
Leidorf also said that while short term clean power is more expensive, longer term it will become a level playing field and will become much less expensive.
In fact, Umedaly said, the long term is the most important perspective to have, because that’s where the payoff will be.