LOUD AND CLEAR by Denzil Doyle

We can only hope and pray that our politicians don’t give all our money to maintain jobs in the automotive industry without keeping any to build an energy industry.

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We have energy technology, now let’s turn it into money
From SCAN's Print Edition

This year is the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of Samuel de Champlain in what eventually became Canada. He was able to get here because the technology related to transportation had reached a point where it was possible to build a ship out of wood and have it cross the Atlantic Ocean on wind power alone. He was also able to bring an instrument with him that would give him a pretty good idea of where he was on that ocean at any given point in time. While his initial voyage and his subsequent explorations have been the subject of many books and articles, what is not as well noted is the fact that very few people followed him. Almost another two centuries would pass before any serious attempt was made to colonize and populate the territory that he founded.

The main reason for the delay was a lag in communications technology. People were simply not willing to settle so far away from home without having the ability to maintain communications with family, friends, and relatives. As the wooden ships became faster and more reliable, they served as a means of communications. Settlers were able to send the odd letter back home to tell those who were interested that they had survived another Canadian winter. However, it was not until the arrival of the telegraph and the laying of the trans-Atlantic cable in the early eighteen hundreds that the settlers felt that they could come here without cutting of all communications with their community back home.

While technology serves us in a number of ways, the majority of its applications can be grouped under either transportation or communications. And they never seem to be in synch. Just as in the days of Champlain, one is always more advanced than the other. While communications technology is unbelievable at this point in time, most of us can remember the day when a phone call to Europe cost the equivalent of several hours’ wages. And that was at a time when Super Constellations were flying to Europe without even stopping in Newfoundland.

There can be no doubt that transportation technology is today’s laggard. Something has obviously gone wrong in recent years when we find our transportation costs skyrocketing while the level of traveler satisfaction has been deteriorating. (Can anyone say that the average airport is enjoyable? Or even tolerable?)

Canada has made wonderful contributions to both transportation and communications technologies over the years. When we were called upon to solve the problem of connecting our banks together from coast to coast at reasonable costs, we pioneered packet switching. A century before that, we built our own railway systems, including the locomotives that travelled on them.

The challenges facing the transportation industry today are enormous, most of them revolving around the development of new energy sources. It is an area in which Canada has some expertise – or at least the ability to develop it if we put our minds to it.

While it is easy to sympathize with our politicians in their attempts to maintain jobs in the automotive industry, we can only hope and pray that they don’t give all our money to that cause without keeping any to build what I would call an “energy industry”. We have excellent fuel cell technology but we seem to have difficulty turning it into products that will make money for investors. The same is true of nuclear energy. We are doing some unique things in the dilution of heavy oil and that technology is going to be in demand around the world as we run out of the conventional oil. We also have pockets of technology for turning biomass and garbage into energy. And the list goes on. Maybe a starting point would be to take an inventory of what we do have and what it would take to turn it into money.

Guru in one guise, angel in another, Denzil Doyle is a member of the Order of Canada, a professional engineer, founder and former CEO of Digital Equipment Corp. in Canada, company director, mentor, consultant, investor and author of the best-selling ‘Making Technology Happen’. He can be reached at ddoyle@doyletechcorp.com.

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