Q&A: Disruption coming to energy world — and quickly

"We're just at the beginning of a huge shift in global energy," says Graeme Edge, one of the organizers of the upcoming of Energy Disruptors conference in Calgary.

Entrepreneur Richard Branson, Suncor CEO Steve Williams among list of speakers

Richard Branson will be a keynote speaker at the "Energy Disruptors Unite 2018" conference in Calgary on May 15-16. (Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP)

The future of energy has perhaps never been so uncertain.

Is peak oil demand decades away or around the corner? Can we develop renewable energy technology that can meet the world's growing energy demands? Will all cars be electric one day? 

The answers could fundamentally impact how we live.

Calgary will host an international conference called "Energy Disruptors: Unite 2018" on May 15-16 that will put the future of energy under the microscope.

There are speakers from the world of high tech, high finance and even high-performance racing. Included are:

  • Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin.
  • Holly Ransom, chief executive of millennial consultancy Emergent.
  • Steve Williams, CEO of Suncor.
  • Lucas di Grassi, a world champion Formula E racer.

This isn't an environmental conference, yet the stated goal of the conference doesn't lack for ambition, aiming to ignite "a global movement of game-changing energy technologies."

CBC News spoke with Graeme Edge, one of the organizers behind the event, about the conference, its goals and the future of energy.

The interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
Founders of Energy Disruptors: Unite 2018 Conference (left to right): Graeme Edge, his wife Michelle Edge and Rachel Maxwell. (Supplied)

How did the idea for this conference come about?

I've spent the last 15 years in executive search business and focused on energy. And about two years ago my business partner and I started our own executive search firm.

I was attending a number of different events around the world and ended up at an event in London about 18 months ago that was hosted by Richard Branson called Virgin Disruptors. The idea behind that event was to bring together entrepreneurs who are shaking up traditional industries.

I'm flying home back to Calgary and I thought it would be great if we had something like this in Canada.

The event is called "energy disruptors." What does that mean?

We believe that the global energy industry is just at the beginning of a significant disruption and it's not a gradual transition. That's our opinion. You'll get other people that will say this is going to be a 50-year, very slow transition. We don't believe that as a group. And we believe actually that there are some very significant changes that are happening in global energy right now.

Why hold this conference?

We were trying to get people to think about the future in a positive way rather than viewing the changes that are happening in energy through a lens of fear. We, as a team, are big believers that we're just at the beginning of a huge shift in global energy that's being driven by very powerful technology forces, by changes in policy, by changes in behaviours.
There's growing investment in wind and solar power in Canada. (CBC)

We see those changes as a tremendous opportunity rather than as a threat. And we felt that the whole discussion around the future of energy has been pulled to the extremes and we thought let's try and actually bring these stakeholders together and have a pragmatic positive discussion, and I'd believe that Canada has a very important role to play in the future of energy.

How do we transition Calgary from a traditional energy centre to a future energy centre? We've got to continue to be a world-class leader in hydrocarbons but we've also got to invest in other areas within energy as well at the same time.

What other areas do you mean?

We've got incredible renewable energy assets within this province and within Canada. So I think there's a tremendous opportunity around renewable energy. In places like China, who are looking for clean tech solutions, they have a big issue around their pollution within their major cities. So there's also a technology opportunity for Canadian companies to export disruptive technologies to places like the Chinese market.

Are you trying to reach the traditional oil and gas sector as well?

Absolutely. About 70 per cent of the 1,100 registrants that we've had so far are working within oil and gas. People use the term traditional energy but the oil and gas industry is an incredibly innovative and technology-driven industry.

So what we also want to do is show some of these other groups and some of these other stakeholders that actually there's some really cool stuff happening from a technology and innovation perspective right here on our doorstep.

There are people who don't believe there's any future for oil and gas.

I think the general message is that the status quo isn't going to cut it. So it's not that this is the end of the industry. I think there's a very bright future for the oil and gas industry, particularly in Canada.

But we also have to invest in other areas. And these technologies are often complementary. You're seeing various oil and gas companies pursuing renewable energy solutions within parts of their business as well.