Thank you very much. Good afternoon.
I'm very pleased to be here representing Alberta's clean technology sector as executive director of the Alberta Clean Technology Industry Alliance. I also worked in the oil patch for much of my professional career and then more recently at the Pembina Institute, Canada's leading energy and environment think tank.
Alberta's clean tech sector, we've discovered through undertaking our first major survey of this sector, is largely focused on the needs of the natural resource sector, unsurprisingly, with over three-quarters of the companies in our province marketing to oil and gas or mining.
The health of this sector and its absorptive capacity—the ability to take on novel technology and commercialize it—is actually vital to the long-term success of the clean tech ecosystem in Alberta. I'd encourage you to have a look at our report at www.actia.ca for more details. We think our province is going to become a world-class destination for clean tech venture investment and scale-up and are working regionally with partners B.C., Ontario, and Quebec through the national alliance Canada Cleantech.
Like the previous speaker, I would say our perspective on clean tech is wide. It involves both something new, some element of novel intellectual property or business model, as well as the inclusion of environmental performance better than the competing alternative as part of its core value proposition. In short, you could include clean tech in the natural resource sector in oil and gas as well as in new sectors such as increasing natural sink capacity through CCS or soil carbon enhancement.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for giving us an opportunity to discuss this topic, which is vitally important for the future of our country and of Alberta.
Here, I would like to emphasize how the space of innovation can be stepped up in the extractive sector.
As you know, our oil patch has an incentive and certainly a history of adapting to change, but the need to demonstrate step-change environmental and economic performance comes at a time when leaseholders and their service providers are at a historical disadvantage, losing money on a large portion of the barrels being produced and facing the prospect of a capped or even a declining market in their future. But it's worth remembering that the oil sands industry was borne out of adversity, bankruptcies, operational failures, and even the famous Abasand fire, which took the first commercial plant out of operation permanently in the 1940s. That didn't lead to the abandonment of the sector then.
I would say don't count the oil and gas sector out of the future, but the future will look significantly different than the present or the past.
First off, it's important to know that the high prices for oil and gas in the last decade planted the seeds for the current crisis. As prices escalated, investment focused on developing novel sources of hydrocarbon, including in the Arctic and the oil sands, in Brazil, off the Gulf of Guinea, and so on. It also laid the groundwork for the success of lower cost, high productivity development right here in North America. In fact, companies like Encana were at the front edge of applying a kind of manufacturing approach to resource development. As a result, we've moved to a situation where the problem is supply and not demand.
In fact, McKinsey and others forecast that the global demand for oil and gas will peak within the next 10 to 20 years. Some forecast that it has already peaked and that, with the advent of electric vehicles and demand reduction technologies, we're likely to see a significant decrease over time. Certainly, no serious attempt to address climate change includes growth of oil and gas combustion.
Innovation, in my view, is key to going where the puck is and not where it was. Some changes to technology, process, or business models are merely incremental. I think we realize that incremental will not get this sector where it needs to be. Research on this sector has shown that technology adoption is relatively slow with an average of 16 years from concept to widespread commercial adoption. As a slow clock-speed industry, the oil and gas sector is disadvantaged by high capital cost and by the need for the public sector to intervene to accelerate deployment.
Among the key barriers to technology change in oil and gas is our historic tendency to under-invest in R and D, with only 1% of net revenue in R and D compared with 4% to 12% in computing or electronics. The high capital cost and high risk for any change to the technology template while piloting disruptive change in technology can be both costly and career limiting for proponents.
It also induces regulatory risk. If you change the template, you're asking the regulator to put new constraints on your project approval.
In terms of intellectual property conflicts, one of the tendencies in the industry is to sort of paper around a particular innovation to prevent other people from doing it, and of course, that slows innovation. Most fundamentally, there's a kind of cultural challenge: business architecture lock-in. For example, one study of the adoption of the Internet of things in the oil and gas sector concluded that managers are deploying things, but are confronted by the fact that they can't change their fundamental business architecture, so you're maintaining existing organizational silos rather than changing them.
There are two fundamental ways to disrupt this. First is to rethink what business we are in and then, second, to rethink the role of the public sector in supporting innovation.
Let me talk about the business piece first.
Upstream, a future-oriented view would look toward investment in extraction technologies that leave the carbon in the ground while recovering the electrons, the hydrogen, and the rare earth elements. Several researchers in Alberta and elsewhere are working on this, but like the oil sands before they were commercialized, these are technologies that are outside of the profitability horizon of publicly traded oil companies. Public investment is urgently needed here, and maybe a technology prize, something that catalyzes imagination. Of course, if that's the case, then count ACTia in as part of that.
In downstream refining, I'm aware of a group of experienced engineers and technologists from several leading companies who, working out of Sarnia's Bowman Centre, are investigating the potential for transforming long-chain asphaltenes, the heart of the oil sands, into graphene and carbon fibre. In that view, if you can imagine it, if Ontario were the world's lowest-cost producer of carbon fibre, what would that mean for the long-term prospects for our auto sector or our building sector? There's a moat in there that even Warren Buffett would applaud.
If we were to seriously focus on rethinking what the downstream market is for a product, we might have a long-term story that would be unique globally.
There are several public sector interventions that are necessary to accelerate clock speed in oil and gas. They will include rethinking IP and incentives for technology deployment as well as for rethinking the industry model. As an example for your consideration, Alberta, in reviewing its oil sands royalty regime, struck new ground in offering royalty incentives for non-combustion uses of bitumen. I think that's a model that would be really important in other sectors as well.
There are a few other elements, such as regulatory incentives and flexibility mechanisms for innovative technology deployment. As I mentioned, when you change the template, you create risk for the regulator. In the U.S., the EPA offers negotiated performance waivers under the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. This empowers authorities to trade certainty of environmental performance for the opportunity of better performance at a lower cost.
One could also offer a fast track in regulatory consideration for projects that are better than the average or better than the last project that came through the queue. On that basis, companies would compete for a spot in the NEB queue on the basis of how well they were doing from an environmental perspective, rather than how well the project did in terms of getting itself into the queue on a first-come, first-served basis.
We also need a lot more focus on pre-commercial technology sandboxes. A good example of that is the partnership between Natural Resources Canada and the Government of Alberta to launch the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre in support of the carbon Xprize here in Alberta. Technology sandboxes are the magnets around which ecosystems can form. Much like you go to CERN in Geneva if you study particle physics in order to smash atoms together and understand the fundamental stuff of the universe, we need to create these kinds of magnets in other domains, here in Canada. Like the carbon conversion centre—