Clean Technology News

Interdisciplinary Approach to net zero
Taking an interdisciplinary approach to net zero
Published on: May 10, 2023

Established in January 2022, the Climate Positive Energy Initiative is the University of Toronto’s centre for interdisciplinary clean energy research. We spoke with Shatha Qaqish-Clavering to learn more about the centre’s exciting plans to help Canada meet 2050 climate targets.

Describe your core offering(s). How is your organization contributing to a cleaner, greener future?

The climate challenge is a big one – it’s everyone’s issue. As such, we’re taking an interdisciplinary approach to reaching 2050 targets. Our centre brings together more than 200 UofT faculty members from nearly 40 units and departments. We want to make the entirety of our university’s talent and expertise available to our collaborations with industry and community partners.

Other than coffee, what gets you out of bed in the morning? How does this work connect with your core beliefs and values?

I’ve been in the innovation and cleantech ecosystem for my whole career. For me, it’s a dream to be bringing together experts from across disciplines to solve one of humanity’s biggest challenges. I believe that everyone can contribute to climate solutions, and, on a personal note, I would love to leave my children – our children – with a better place.

Tell us about a recent win (or wins) or your organization.

We have several projects on the go. We’re particularly proud of our recent partnership with the City of Toronto, which focuses on climate action strategy for youth. Since today’s youth will be the most impacted by climate change, we want to support them in taking climate action and making decisions about the future. During their lifetime, they will be the ones to create novel solutions and build resilience.

What’s next for your organization?

We’re working with several partners to build a $23-million centre for grid modernization, where we can bring together stakeholders to help make decisions and accelerate technologies for net-zero cities. We envision a centre with real-time simulators for grids, test stations for physical assets, and the ability for stakeholders to test “what if” scenarios. At the same time, the university campuses are becoming “living labs” where researchers and companies can pilot and test new solutions. We already have some projects focused on energy management for buildings.

We’re also busy establishing the Net Zero Alliance, a consortium of industry members who are experiencing similar bottlenecks for reaching 2050, such as dealing with electrification of trucking and fleets, CCUS, natural carbon sinks, and Scope 3 emissions. There’s a huge opportunity for universities and our researchers to play a role in R&D so that the solutions our partners need are ready for scale up.

This spring, we’re launching a Climate Positive Energy Summer 2023 Undergraduate Research Program Award that provides $5,000 for undergrads who are underrepresented in research or in their field. If we’re going to solve the climate crisis, we need everyone’s voice.

Finally, what’s on your team’s wish list for Ontario’s cleantech sector?

We need more collaboration between academic and industry. The need is urgent, and it’s not enough to have funding programs. We need to build a thriving ecosystem that encourages and further incentivizes partnership. We don’t have time to waste.

I’d add that though the province is putting a lot of money into the auto industry, and the evolution is there, the grid is not ready. We need more clean energy, renewables, and energy storage solutions. That’s part of what we hope to support with our centre.

Get to know #ONcleantech! Each month, OCTIA will profile a different member company or organization. Want more Ontario clean technology content? Subscribe to our newsletter.