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To celebrate the University of British Columbia’s centennial, we asked UBC Sauder professors to tell us about imminent changes in business that will transform our daily lives. From the green economy to internet security we asked them, “What’s next?”

 

Who:

Associate professor and executive director of the UBC Sauder Centre for Social Innovation and Impact Investing, which works to create real-world change in areas such as the low carbon economy, social innovation and First Nations economic development.

What's Now:

Over the past decade, there has been a burst of enthusiasm for clean, green technology, but it tends to be more capital-intensive and takes longer to get products to market, so it requires more patience than typical venture capital investments, says Tansey.

But he says some countries — like China where poor air quality is a major motivator — are making enormous efforts to reorient their economies around less carbon intensive energy strategies, and rapidly adopting green technologies such as solar power.

Low-cost natural gas and low oil prices mean less impetus to shift to greener technologies, but Tansey says products such as electric cars have improved to the point that, even with substantially lower prices at the pump, they still make financial sense. For example, gas prices may have dropped by 30 percent, but an electric car can mean a savings of 80 percent or more.

“Also, they’re just making better electric cars,” says Tansey, who drives a BMW i3 and loves it. “When you get out of the electric car and back into driving a normal car, it’s kind of like putting on MC Hammer pants,” he says with a laugh. “It’s just something you wouldn’t do anymore.”

James Tansey

What's Next:

Tansey predicts that, with transportation, we’ll see more electrification of vehicles — in part as a response to climate change pressures, but also because of deteriorating air quality in growing population centres, especially in Asia.

Low natural gas prices will make it tougher for alternative energy sources to compete, he explains; but the cost of solar will continue to decline, and advances such as glass that can harness the sun’s power — so skyscrapers could be covered in windows that double as solar panels — will propel its widespread use.

Industry will be the biggest beneficiary of new and better green technologies, as energy can account for more than a third of a business’ costs; and at the consumer level, our homes will continue to get smarter, with built-in systems able to detect when we’re in or out, and adjust lighting and temperature accordingly.

“The winning products will be the ones that make people’s lives better and that make people happier. The fact that they save energy is a nice byproduct,” says Tansey. “If we can make batteries better, and laptops better, and TVs better, I think there are going to be great opportunities for consumers to think differently.”

British Columbia has become a hotbed of green research, adds Tansey — and, widely considered an international sustainability leader, UBC has reduced emissions on campus by more than 30 percent in less than a decade.

“B.C. is a unique place in terms of the mix of energy issues and the level of innovation,” he says. “We’re a kind of incubator, and the whole province is a living laboratory for many of the issues that cities and countries are going to face around the world.”