Fraser Forum

Risky business—the clean tech gamble

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Governments across Canada are betting big (carbon tax) money on clean tech. Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have all directed funds from carbon pricing into ventures promoting “clean tech” (a.k.a. technology that provides for people’s needs while causing less greenhouse gas emissions).

But a recent report on the state of Canada’s clean technology industry from a group named Analytica Advisors suggests that governments may be risking taxpayer dollars on misguided green dreams. Despite governmental promises, the “green” sector is bleeding out quite a lot of red.

Here are a few of Analytica’s findings (paraphrased from their synopsis of the report):

• Profits in the industry are negative: industry Return on Sales (ROS) improved from negative 4 per cent in 2011 to negative 2 per cent in 2015.

• Returns on capital are non-competitive: return on capital employed for companies with commercialized projects was lower than the average for all nonfinancial Canadian companies.

• Global competitiveness is in decline: Canada’s market share of clean-tech exports declined from 1.6 per cent in 2008 to 1.4 per cent in 2015.

• Clean-tech patents are also in decline: Canada’s market share of patent applications declined from 1.6 per cent in 2011 to 1.3 per cent in 2015.

• In addition, retained earnings in the clean-tech sector have plunged since 2011, from losing $2 billion per year in 2011, to losing $3.5 billion per year in 2015.

They conclude that:

In short, Canada’s clean-technology industry is awash in red ink. Its firms, and the know-how and intellectual property (IP) they hold, are vulnerable to foreign takeovers. Despite unprecedented interest and engagement from provincial and federal governments, Canada’s low-carbon Renaissance is very much on the ropes.

Here’s the painful reality—humanity needs vast quantities of affordable and reliable energy to secure the high quality of life we often take for granted in developed countries such as Canada. Clean tech has shown no meaningful potential to produce the kind of energy, either in quality or quantity, that we can produce more affordably, and more abundantly, with conventional technologies—hydro, nuclear, and fossil fuels—at least for the foreseeable future.

Promoting research and development is all well and good, but Canadian governments are putting tax dollars at risk by spending on a dream of Canada as the next world clean-tech giant. New data on Canada’s clean technology industry suggests that the clean-tech dream is just that, a dream. Policymakers would do better to look at what worked in the past—thriving energy and technology markets focused on giving Canadians the lowest cost, most reliable, and yes, less polluting technologies to generate and use energy, and stop risking taxpayer dollars on government-directed clean-tech dreams.


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