B.C.'s Power Technology Will Grow to be A $1 Billion Industry

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

British Columbia's power technology sector -- driven by a worldwide need for alternative sources of power -- will grow to be a $1-billion industry by 2005, an increase of 66 per cent since 2002, says a report released Tuesday.

The report also said that revenues of $620 million for 2002 were larger than those for the same year in the highly-touted wireless sector, at $510 million, and the well-publicized biotechnology cluster at $179 million.

The BC Power Technology Industry Survey says the diverse industry -- that includes everything from fuel cells to LED lighting to solar power to energy management, power conditioning and turbines -- expects the workforce of 3,000 to grow from 15 to 20 per cent over the next three years.

"Our power systems are aging in North America and Europe and the load demands are getting higher," said Clay Braziller of the not- for-profit Canadian Institute for Market Intelligence, which did the survey with KPMG. "The only way these demands are going to be met is through these technologies.

"This is going to be bigger, and is already bigger in terms of what's happening, than what telecommunications and the Internet were."

At this stage, however, most of the companies, said the survey, are still considered to be in the early growth, or start-up stage -- with only a handful of established players in the field.

The survey of 65 power technology executives, said that while most British Columbians believe the power technology sector -- which spent $175 million on research and development in 2002 -- is comprised of fuel cell companies like Ballard Power Systems, in fact that's just 20 per cent of the industry, which includes three electric vehicle consortiums.

"Xantrex `Technologies Inc.`, for example, is really riding the wave of wind power and solar power," said Braziller. "It's probably the company, if you're doing a solar installation, to turn to to do the conditioning and the inverting of the electricity."

On the retail side, said Braziller, companies like Victoria's Power Measurement, which offers software and hardware for monitoring power usage are regarded as leaders in their field.

"And then there's Carmanah which is a leader in solar-powered LED lighting for such things as navigation," Braziller said. "And LED is one of the fastest growing lighting segments."

As well, there are many smaller firms -- the survey reports that 40 per cent of the companies employ 10 or fewer people -- that work in such areas as biomass, the conversion of waste agricultural materials or waste forest materials or garbage into a gas or an oil.

"In Europe, biomass is one of the critical ways they're going to have to meet their sustainable energy needs," said Braziller.

As well, he said, there is the conversion of things like cooking oil into diesel fuel.

"And that's an area too that's going to do really, really, well because it's basically energy thrown down the drain."

The survey showed that 43 per cent of the companies' revenues come from the United States, with Canada coming second at 26 per cent.

Sales are also being generated in Asia (17 per cent) and Europe (11 per cent).

Braziller said a major purpose of the survey is to get the industry to see the benefits of collaborating.

"Really what we're trying to drive is to get these companies to know about each other, not just meet each other on a plane when they're coming home from a sales call. What we're hoping down the line is that everyone will be selling each other products."

And the other things we're hoping to do is to get the venture capitalists and the government to say, whoa, we didn't realize how big the power technology industry is, let's pay some more attention to it."