Q&A with Kathleen Sendall: Outgoing Board Chair

How do Albertans, and Canadians, benefit from ERA’s investments?

Simply put, meeting provincial and national climate leadership goals, while supporting the economy, benefits everyone. Minimizing our impact on the environment, while supporting industry, is good for jobs and good for society. Our investments are putting people to work and making a real impact on GHG reductions. It can be difficult to see in our everyday lives, but it will help workers find jobs because we have the most carbon competitive barrel of oil. It’s cement products that absorb and store carbon dioxide. Taking action on climate change, supporting the growth of jobs, and investing in innovation, helps build a better future for everyone.

ERA uses key performance metrics to demonstrate its success— which one matters most?

We are here to identify and accelerate innovative solutions that secure Alberta’s success in a lower carbon economy. Simply put: we cut carbon and we cut costs. We can’t pick between them. Reducing GHG emissions is the core of what we do and we need to attribute everything to that. On the other side of the coin, we look for cost benefits for Albertans: new products, new companies, new jobs.

How is ERA’s funding different from other publicly-funded agencies such as Alberta Innovates or Energy Efficiency Alberta?

One important difference is age and stage of technology. We are focused on pilot, demonstration, and first of a kind scale-up. We also fund projects with clear objectives, milestones, timelines, and deliverables. We don’t fund ongoing operations or open-ended programs, like a five-year research initiative. While different, we work together with our trusted partners to maximize our capacity, leverage funding, and make it easier for people to navigate Alberta’s innovation system. We are different from our partners for a reason—we don’t want to duplicate efforts—we work together for success across the system.

Not all investments deliver the intended results. How does ERA learn from technology that isn’t successful?

One technology failure can be another’s success. This is part of ERA’s return on investment. Our funding recipients are required to produce a final outcomes report, shared publicly for the broader benefit of Alberta. There are always learnings from these projects, both on what works and what doesn’t work. We are also finding new ways to talk about real expe- riences, both successes and challenges. Over 200 people joined us for our first lessons learned event—Brooks Solar. In our survey, all attendees recommended more of these events in the future. It shows a desire for us to host workshops with the intent to accelerate technology adoption by sharing what worked and what didn’t.

You have been the Board Chair for four years. What are you most proud of?

What stands out is the joint call with SDTC. It paved the way for our Partnership Intake Program and helped us think through how we can do better across the innovation system. It was the first time we worked together to allow innovators access to funding through a single applica- tion, instead of two separate and unique processes. This coordinated, co-funded approach is a great example of how Alberta and Canada are leveraging funds to attract new investment to Alberta. It also allowed entrepreneurs and innovators more time to focus on developing ideas and technologies, rather than filling out applications. SDTC has gone on to use it as a stepping stone to work with other provincial organizations. That’s a big win. It shows strong leadership from ERA in the system.