Renewable energy has experienced big growth in Canada in the last five years, so much so that employment in the sector outstrips employment in the oilsands.

That's the conclusion of a report on the state of green energy technology in Canada by Clean Energy Canada, an advocate for renewables.

It estimates $24 billion has been invested in the past five years, mainly because of renewable initiatives in the power sector by Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.

Direct employment in the clean energy sector – which encompasses hydro power, as well as wind, solar and biomass – is up 37 per cent to 23,700 people. That compares with 22,340 directly employed in the oilsands.

GenY Green Jobs 20110407

Clean Energy Canada says there are more jobs in the clean energy sector than in the oilsands. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Wind, solar, run-of-river, and biomass energy has grown by 93 per cent since 2009, albeit off a very low base.

The impact of the falling price of oil should be a warning to Canada that federal economic policy is overly reliant on oil, Merran Smith, the director of Clean Energy Canada, said in an interview with CBC News.

"We need a vision for the energy sector that is bigger than that."

Smith said the federal government needs to step up and give diplomatic support to Canada's renewable technologies. The U.S. would likely welcome some form of cooperation on clean energy, Smith said.

"The majority of diplomatic support goes to the pipeline," she said. "We need to be able to talk about green energy exports."

In 2013, Canada ranked 7th in the G20 in clean energy investment, up from 12th in 2012. Total investment was $6.5 billion for the year, with substantial amounts of money going to wind and solar.

Provinces make the investment

The bulk of the good news is a result of Ontario and Quebec's investments in wind and solar power and B.C.'s investment in new hydro power. But there is also substantial private sector investment, mainly from Germany and Japan, in green energy.

The fact that foreign capital is coming to develop Canada's renewables shows that business sees the potential for the clean energy sector in Canada, even where government doesn't, Smith said. 

'The federal government has given targeted support to every big industry in Canada to get it off the ground, from aerospace to automobiles to oilsands, but the clean energy sector did not get that kind of support.' - Merran Smith, Clean Energy Canada

The report advocates a move to renewable power generation in Alberta, which has reliable sunshine and wind alternatives, and Saskatchewan, which is still using coal.

Canada could meet all its energy needs with renewables by 2050, if it put the right policies in place, Clean Energy Canada says.

Meanwhile, the federal government is not doing enough to help Canada meet its 2020 targets for lower greenhouse gas emissions, the report said.

Recommendations for Ottawa

Clean Energy Canada said Ottawa is missing out on multiple opportunities to invest in renewables.

Among them:

  • Give favourable tax treatment for development of power storage and solar technologies.
  • Help build clean energy infrastructure.
  • Concentrate less on oil exports and more on renewable exports in trade talks.
  • Provide a rebate for electric vehicles.
  • Carbon pricing that could discourage use of high-carbon alternatives.

Clean Energy Canada points to several areas where Canada has a headstart on other nations in developing renewable technology, including B.C.'s smart meter expertise and Ontario and Quebec's cleantech sector. It advocates more development in those sectors, so Canada can live up to its potential in green energy. 

Smith calls on Ottawa to level the playing field between fossil fuels and clean energy.

"It is not a level playing field. The oil and gas industry is creating a lot of carbon pollution and doesn't pay the cost of that pollution," she said.

Smith argues that a price was put on pollution from pulp mills to get rid of acid rain and a similar approach is needed for fossil fuels.

"We need a price on carbon," she said.

"The federal government has given targeted support to every big industry in Canada to get it off the ground, from aerospace to automobiles to oilsands, but the clean energy sector did not get that kind of support," she added.


  • We have updated this story to clarify that the employment numbers quoted refer only to direct jobs in the oilsands industry and do not include spin-off or affiliated indirect jobs. The figures quoted by Clean Energy Canada come from the federal government and the petroleum industry.
    Jun 16, 2015 11:00 AM ET