If you tried to think of a Canadian industry that had more firms (774) than Canada’s aerospace industry (700), employed more people than the Canada’s forestry and pharmaceutical industries, and was growing at four times the pace of the overall national economy up until just a couple of years ago, Canadian clean tech probably wouldn’t be your first thought.
“It’s the silent industry in Canada; we’re not even aware that this industry spends almost as much in R&D as the auto industry, or the aerospace industry.” – Audrey Mascarenhas, CEO of Questor Technology Inc.
The recently published 2016 Canadian Clean Technology Industry Report knows better: it’s designed to educate people about the strengths of Canadian clean tech, while also highlighting the areas where the clean tech industry could do with more support. With impressive growth in the clean tech industry predicted for years to come, analysts and many within the industry are now calling for additional support and investment in order to further speed the development of clean tech in Canada.
Canadian Clean Tech Growth And Support
Celine Bak, CEO of Analytica Advisors, who published the report, says that risk-averse bankers can be a big obstacle for new clean tech companies in Canada. The problem, says Bak, is a classic catch 22; banks don’t want to invest in startup tech companies until there are numerous examples of very similar companies out there, but that these similar examples are harder to find because they aren’t getting financed by banks in the first place.
“Banks, as many people say, are in the business of pricing a risk. Risk is all about experience. Lenders say, ‘Well, we haven’t seen 40 of these [new cleantech] projects. Generally we don’t lend unless we’ve seen 40. If we think about this as a new industry, we don’t have, in almost all cases, dozens of implementations for people to judge how risky something is.” – Celine Bak, Analytica Advisors CEO
Apart from financing, there has only been only mediocre governmental support for clean tech in Canada, especially when the support offered is compared to some other major Canadian industries. Creating a comprehensive mechanism for a government to support an industry (such as with grants or incentives) takes time, and clean tech in Canada has been playing the waiting game for years now. That being said, recent developments such as Ontario’s historic Climate Plan suggests that things could be about to change for the better.
It’s Time To Trust Clean Tech
Daryl Wilson, CEO of Canadian hydrogen-generator company Hyrdogenics, believes that Canadians themselves are also in need of a change of attitude when it comes to clean tech. Like the banks, he thinks Canadians are a little too risk averse and reluctant to change for their own good. He found that only by strong self-promotion could be break through this barrier of skepticism:
“[I]n Canada for the last three years, we faced a lot of opposition with Canadian buyers saying, ‘Where else have you done this? We’re not prepared to take the risk of doing this for the first time.’ It’s not Canadian to be self-promotional, but we need to promote ourselves much more strongly, because elsewhere in the world we are recognized as innovators and leaders, but on our home soil we don’t promote our solutions to the degree that we should.”
In truth, there are a combination of many factors – from red tape financing issues and lukewarm support from government to a lack of awareness about clean tech in general – that the Canadian clean tech industry has had to battle with. That being said, it would be very hard to suggest that the clean tech industry in Canada is in anything but a strong position. Growth is expected to continue for many years to come, and as companies become more established, the support that the industry would so clearly benefit from will hopefully become more readily available. If and when this support does arrive, who knows how high Canadian clean tech will climb.