The energy system of the future is the focus of a one-of-a-kind lab bringing together a diverse group of Albertans to discuss, experiment and innovate.

The fellows in the Energy Futures Lab are collaborating to find ways to help Alberta transition to a low carbon future.

“The lab is really trying to create a space for people, even with quite different opinions and perspectives and views, to come together and respectfully debate and discuss,” says Chad Park, director of the Energy Futures Lab and chief innovation officer at The Natural Step Canada.

The lab is an initiative of The Natural Step Canada, a non-profit helping organizations transition to a sustainable future.

Ideas and initiatives for transforming Alberta's energy industry were showcased April 19 at the Innovating Alberta’s Energy Future Showcase where over 400 people were in attendance. The showcase featured work by fellows with the Energy Futures Lab. Presenters included an entrepreneur turning CO2 emissions into valuable products, a First Nations leader helping to bring renewable energy to his community and oil executives working to reduce emissions in energy production.

“Having something like this happening in Alberta is extremely important for our province," said Andrew Ference, former captain of the Edmonton Oilers. "It's a time when I think our province is trying to be innovative, try to look at how do we properly diversify our economy."

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The impetus for the lab, which officially launched in 2015, was division.

“Energy issues are highly polarized, and that polarization is a problem for all stakeholders, no matter what kind of perspective you might have on what needs to be done,” Park says.

The lab is a place people can come together, make sense of what’s happening, and look forward. By creating a place where people can find common ground, the Energy Futures Lab aims to spark collaboration and new initiatives.

“This is a unique opportunity for [fellows],” Park says. “The focus is really on creating stuff together, not brokering or negotiating interests.”

The fellows are diverse by design, Park says, and include people from oil and gas companies and renewable energy companies, First Nations leaders, economic development staff, environmental groups, and public engagement experts.

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Chad Park

A strong contingent of the lab’s 42 fellows are from Calgary.

“Calgary is at the epicentre of all this,” Park says. “Everyone recognizes that energy is fundamental to the Alberta economy and of course to Calgary’s economy. When we’re talking about the future of the energy system and how Alberta shapes and adapts to that system, we’re really talking about the future of Alberta’s economy.”

Through four workshops held over the past year, the fellows have built rapport and trust among themselves.

A shared vision has emerged, of the pathways “Alberta needs to pursue in order to build the energy system that the future requires of us,” Park says.

Donna Kennedy-Glans thinks it’s the right approach. Kennedy-Glans previously served as Alberta’s associate minister of electricity and renewable energy.  She is a former energy sector executive, and an advisor to the Energy Futures Lab.  

“The Energy Futures Lab is a space to flesh out what’s in between the polarities,” she says.“I think it’s a very reflective space, a space where you can build some trust because if its duration, because there are rules of engagement that have to be respected, and I think that’s really rare.”

Another advisor, Gordon Lambert, is an independent consultant and former Suncor Energy executive.

“The convening of diverse stakeholders to talk about how we create that energy future is the real magic of it,” Lambert says. “There’s been efforts across Alberta over time to have multi-stakeholders engagement on environment and energy issues, but I think what makes this unique is the focus on our energy system and how to make it compatible with a carbon constrained future.”

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