Canadian Energy Person of the Year Elyse Allan: Innovation is Key to Being an Energy Superpower

On November 10, Elyse Allan, President and CEO of GE Canada, received the Energy Person of the Year award from the Energy Council of Canada. Her keynote address outlined how Canada can achieve its role as an energy superpower.

In the past, global energy leadership was viewed in terms of one simple rubric: volume of production. Not anymore, says Allan. Today, energy leadership is about embracing innovation, which is the key not only to addressing problems like climate change and energy poverty, but also to improving our competitiveness in the world energy markets.

“Innovation is the most effective tool we have to lower costs and reduce our carbon emissions at the same time,” Allan said during her speech. “We’re also faced with the reality that technology today is disruptive, and that it’s reshaping the competitive landscape for energy companies. This is one race where I can assure you that the tortoise does not win.”

Allan suggests that carbon pricing will speed up technological innovation, because it increases energy-consumption costs across a number of sectors. The only way to keep rising prices under control is through innovation. “Carbon pricing will have a transformative impact on the rate at which we adopt new technology because it changes the fundamental economic equation around risk and reward,” she said.

Companies Must Ramp Up Their “Receptor Capacity”

Of course, adopting new technology is easier said than done, especially for large companies that have their own particular way of doing things. Many businesses struggle with “receptor capacity,” a term that refers to a company’s ability to scale new innovations. Executives can be excited by a new process, but many don’t know how to implement that technology across a company.

Canadian companies must “ramp up their receptor capacity,” she said. How? In part by bridging gaps between young tech-savvy workers and older employees who know how existing processes work. Creating innovation labs can help, too. In Calgary, GE has a Customer Innovation Centre, where process engineers work with seven small companies to accelerate the scaling of their innovations. The project only started in March, but these companies are now working with either GE or its customers. “It took seven months from the garage to the boardroom and production site,” she said. “The excitement among the seven and their peers is palpable.”

Becoming a Climate Leader for the World

While technological innovation is important, the energy sector also needs to innovate in another area: energy poverty and climate change. Currently, there are 1.2 billion people who don’t have access to electricity. The only way developing nations are going to be able to raise the health and living standards of their people is to end energy poverty, she said. As well, climate change “has undeniable environmental, economic, social and health impacts for the world,” she said, and added that carbon pricing—which can help drive down emissions across the world—should be applied globally.

Canada is in a position to show leadership in this area, she said, but it needs to be done soon. “Canada has the resources and the know-how to supply energy demand and to show climate leadership in how we do it,” she said. “We need to reconceive this conversation, moving from a framework of conflict to one of cooperation.”

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