Inside Alberta’s Energy Futures Lab
Suncor, the Alberta government and many other interested parties have pumped millions of dollars into this future-energy think tank
“Backcasting” refers to a kind of planning that starts with a desired outcome and then works backwards to the present to determine what steps are needed to achieve it. It necessarily lives in the realm of hypotheticals, and that’s where Chad Park has found himself spending a lot of time lately.
The Edmonton native is the director and facilitator-in-chief of the Edmonton-based Energy Futures Lab, a think tank tasked with dreaming up a sustainable and prosperous energy sector to meet the long-term interests of the province. From the question of market access for oil, to health concerns around oil sands and wind farm projects, the lab seeks to solve the big questions about energy and where we’re going with it as a province.
It’s no small task. And it starts with a full schedule of relationship-building meetings, often between different groups with divergent visions of Alberta’s energy future. But Park insists the lab is a place of action, not idle talk. “This is not a negotiated-solutions space,” Park says. “People aren’t coming in here to negotiate an agreement, because there are other places for that. This is a creative solutions space and that tends to attract both the individuals and the companies—but primarily the individuals—who want to be a part of shaping the future instead of just reacting to what’s come.”
Those individuals, the 40-odd fellows of the Energy Futures Lab, include some of the heaviest hitters in the oil and renewables sectors—executives from Suncor, the Pembina Institute, the Banff Centre and the Alberta government. They’ve come to cast a keen eye onto innovation and adaptation for an increasingly energy-hungry world. Supplying that energy will require producers and the public to move beyond the tired political back-and-forth over pipelines, wind turbines or carbon taxes. “This is a little microcosm of the diversity and polarization of perspectives and here’s what we are able to come together on,” Park says. “So our hope is to ultimately affect some of the public narrative on these issues in a way that de-polarizes and sheds light on the radical middle—all those people who, like many of us, don’t identify with the extreme ends of the poles.”
To that end, the lab hasn’t yet taken a position on a specific project in the op-eds and philosophical statements it publishes. But Park isn’t ruling out doing so in the future—should the right situation call for it. “The group is keen to start to use their collective voice if they can because they recognize, as others do, the power of a diverse group like this advocating for things together,” Park says. “We haven’t said anything publicly about, say, pipelines for example, but that could be something we try to tackle together.”