We believe the key to a better future is listening to and understanding the perspectives of others. This week, we asked Wal van Lierop, CEO and Co-Founder of Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, an early-stage cleantech venture capital firm, to share his thoughts on transitioning to a low carbon future and the role of traditional energy companies. We thank Wal for taking the time to answer our questions.
The views, opinions and positions expressed are those of the author and don't necessarily reflect those of Suncor.
What’s your take on divestment from fossil fuels as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
Chrysalix has been investing in clean energy innovations for more than a decade, and during this time we have seen the concept of “cleantech” evolve immensely. Cleantech is no longer just about renewables, it is about finding sustainable innovations that can simultaneously improve productivity while reducing costs, the energy intensity and environmental impact of large industries, and it is quickly becoming an integral part of how business is done. Because the world needs cheap, reliable and clean energy.
The concentration of C02 in the atmosphere is now over 400 parts per million, the highest levels ever recorded. Yet we are all hooked on hydrocarbons – and the projected growth of renewables over the next 20-30 years will not be enough to satisfy the increasing energy demands of a world population that is expected to exceed nine billion by 2050, with much of this growth coming from developing countries.
In order to satisfy that demand, we need all the energy we can lay our hands on. As such, we will definitely see hydrocarbons grow in the next few decades. The race is on to figure out how we can make hydrocarbons much cleaner to explore, transport and use, and how we can get much more out of each unit. That represents an enormous cleantech investment opportunity, none more immediate than right here in Western Canada.
And with this, we are beginning to see innovative technologies emerge that can have a very positive impact on the hydrocarbon industry, such as our portfolio company Axine Water Technologies. Axine is developing a unique electro-oxidation process that could treat industrial wastewater far more economically and efficiently than the current processes being used for in situ bitumen oil production.
What role do you see traditional energy companies playing in helping transition to a low carbon future?
The role of large energy companies is changing. PWC recently released a Global Energy CEO Survey, which indicates that 80% of energy CEOs believe innovation will transform their business profoundly over the next five years. When I go to CERAWeek every year in Houston, I have increasingly heard the CEOs of many Fortune 500 energy companies touting the benefits of unconventional oil and gas. But in the same breath they have said that they need sustainable innovation to maximize the opportunity.
Large companies have the capital and access to markets for a massive roll-out of cleantech, and with sustainable innovations and energy tech maturing, these technologies are increasingly ready to contribute to the core business of large industry verticals, like oil and gas.
What key things need to happen to accelerate this transition?
To get the masses to move, we will need to create a new “future normative” built on balanced economic and environmental policies.
We need mature technologies that can reduce costs and energy intensity, while improving productivity and the environmental footprint for large industries in transition. We also need business leadership that creates a welcome environment for change and innovation, overcomes the syndrome of “not invented here,” allows tolerance for risk taking, and in particular helps create well paid local jobs. And we need government that creates a level playing field for cleantech and cleaner energy without long lasting subsidies, but with a supporting financial infrastructure that benefits all stakeholders.
There is a lot of work to be done, but a WIN-WIN-WIN for innovative companies, large industrial giants, and society at large is emerging. We are on the verge of a profitable, successful, and clean new energy paradigm.