Sometimes it *is* just about wind turbines and home retrofits.

In 2007, Glenn Johnson, a Surrey resident, founded Endurance Wind Power. Less than 10 years later, his wind turbine manufacturing and energy generation business employs 155 educated professionals – and the majority live in Surrey, where the company is based.

This company is just one component of the clean tech hub that the City of Surrey is hoping to establish in the next five years as a way to diversity the local economy and create local job opportunities for the half-million people living in Canada’s fastest-growing municipality. Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus has partnered with the City and is investing heavily in clean tech research, bolstering this opportunity.

A burgeoning industry

Endurance Wind Power, along with other emerging Surrey clean tech businesses, is part of a larger trend. High tech jobs, and specifically those in clean technology, have been in the news a lot lately – and for good reason. They’re fast becoming one of BC’s core economic pillars.

According to a 2012 GLOBE report, BC’s clean economy – which the report defines as clean energy supply & storage, clean transportation, green building and energy efficiency – was responsible for over 123,000 jobs and $15b in GDP in 2011. This is about equal to the number of jobs created in tourism, and six times the number of BC jobs in oil, mining and gas.

The same report noted a few leading examples of areas where BC is leading the way – including lithium-ion batteries as back-up power for telecoms, ultra efficient fiberglass windows and doors, and intelligent transportation systems. It also acknowledged provincial policies like B.C.’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act and the Carbon Tax for contributing to the sector’s growth.

A new 2014 report by Analytica Advisors echoed these findings – reporting that the more narrowly defined clean tech sector was responsible for 41,000 jobs in 2012, with revenues increasing nine percent over 2011. Compared to the oil, mining and gas sector, which grew less than one percent over the same time period, this is highly significant. One company alone – Ballard Power Systems – employs 420 people in its Burnaby offices.

Defining the clean tech sector

Clean tech iconBecause this sector is still new and growing, there is no definitive definition of a clean tech job. New innovations are being made every day, and the sector is evolving quickly. What’s clear is that clean tech companies are diverse, serving a wide range of needs from energy storage to cleaning up contaminated soil, and from renewable energy to green consumer products. They are also contributing significantly to BC’s exports.

According to the GLOBE Clean Economy report, right now the major clean tech areas in BC include:

  • Biofuels and biochemicals
  • Power generation
  • Energy infrastructure
  • Green building and energy efficiency
  • Process efficiency and abatement
  • Remediation and soil treatment
  • Transportation
  • Recycling
  • Waste and recovery
  • Water and wastewater

Analytica also includes green consumer products in their assessments of clean tech jobs.

Funding a clean tech future

Mark Betteridge, the CEO of Discovery Parks and a Director of the British Columbia Technology Industry Association recently gave an industry speech where he highlighted that high-tech is the biggest growing sector of BC’s economy & that BC is the start-up centre of Canada. According to Betteridge, who is himself an angel investor, 600 startups have received angel or venture capital over the past few years just in this province. He also noted that the high tech sector has near full employment in BC, a rarity.

However, clean economy jobs are still vulnerable. The sector is new and relatively risky. A 2011 KMPG Clean Tech report card noted BC’s clean tech sector is one of the most vibrant in North America, but that it could still benefit from more investment in R&D, demonstration projects, and early adoption incentives. And PitchBook’s VC Cleantech 2013 Report reported a significant drop in venture capital into the sector between 2012 and 2013. The GLOBE report echoed these findings, noting that the biggest barriers have been challenges finding skilled workers and lack of investment capital.

It’s clear that the clean tech sector is a strong job creator, and an important part of our export mix. It also has the potential to explode in size, given the right scale of investment. Considering this, it might be wise to make deeper public and private investments in promising local clean tech companies.

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