Canada Touts Cleantech Venture with Gates as Clean Energy Ministerial Gets Under Way
Ottawa will invest up to C$30 million in a public-private venture with mega-entrepreneurs Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and others to help launch new, low-carbon energy technologies, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi announced Monday, at the opening of the annual Clean Energy Ministerial in Vancouver.
“Breakthrough Energy Solutions Canada will create a space for collaboration and help companies deliver clean energy technologies sooner and more often—bringing us all one step closer to a clean energy future,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Like this story? Subscribe to The Energy Mix and never miss an edition of our free e-digest.
“We are hopeful that this Breakthrough Energy partnership with Canada will be a model for developing more collaborations that will help reach this goal,” Gates said in a prepared statement.
The program “will involve annual pitch events where entrepreneurs can perform for investors, Dragons’ Den-style,” National Observer reports. Natural Resources Canada will oversee calls for additional funding.
In a curtain-raiser for the ministerial meeting, the Globe and Mail says Sohi “will meet with ministers and top officials from 25 countries, as well as corporate leaders, to pursue joint efforts to commercialize and deploy clean energy technologies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Both the International Energy Agency and the International Renewable Energy Agency have warned that current levels of clean energy investment fall far short of what will be needed to meet the decarbonization targets in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Clean Energy Canada Executive Director Merran Smith agreed that the world’s governments must amp up technology development and adoption through a mix of subsidies, regulations, standards, and carbon pricing. “We are seeing the impacts of climate change all around the globe. Here in Canada, we are feeling the impacts,” she said. “The conversation is going to become more acute, more pointed that we need to not just move in this direction, we need to move quickly, we need to move now.”
“The work that needs to be done is not optional because climate change is real and will wreak havoc on our economy and our communities,” Sohi told the Globe, pointing to the $9 billion he said Canada had committed to clean energy technologies. “All countries take it seriously, and all countries have made commitments to meet Paris targets.”
But the Globe notes that U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry is in Vancouver this week to tout nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage, and The Tyee reports the nuclear industry is out in force. “Note to ministers from 25 nations,” the Vancouver-based e-publication warns. “Prepare to be dangerously greenwashed.”
In their post for The Tyee, public policy academics Tanya Glafenhein and M.V. Ramana trace the nuclear industry’s paradoxical presence at the ministerial back to the language of “clean” energy.
“For years now, there is an open and growing preference for renewable energy among the public around the world,” they write. “This was a problem for the large private and public sector organizations that owned other forms of electricity generation technologies, particularly coal, nuclear, or natural gas. One of the strategies that these large organizations, and supportive politicians and government officials, have been undertaking is to sweep these, or slight variants thereof, under the term clean energy.”
With “clean” as its keyword, for example, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity “spent tens of millions of dollars on advertisement campaigns about ‘clean coal’ being a solution to global warming,” Glafenhein and Ramana note. “The Clean Energy Ministerial buys into a similar narrative by promoting what it calls the ‘Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage Initiative’,” and “this branding strategy continues to pay off. Utilities and friendly politicians have promoted existing but uneconomical power plants as clean energy options and sought subsidies” to keep them above water.
The analysis goes through the waste disposal issues, reactor accident and weapons proliferation risks, and economic factors lining up against nuclear technology, citing a 2018 analysis that put the cost of new nuclear development in the U.S. above $9,000 per kilowatt-hour—compared to $1,350 for wind and $1,110 for solar.
“These economic trends suggest that to expect nuclear energy to play an important role in climate change mitigation is wishful or delusional at best,” the two authors conclude. “The Clean Energy Ministerial should drop its support for technologies like nuclear power and coal. Or it can change its name to Unclean Energy Ministerial.”