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2022 SEDV students in Kananaskis Country where they studied Indigenous ecology

July 5, 2022

Investing in the future of sustainable energy — while learning from the past

Canadian Energy Research Institute’s legacy lives on through gift to UCalgary

It’s 1975 in Canada. The population of Calgary is 457,000, the average family income is around $14,000, and the UCalgary Dinos make their first appearance in the Vanier Cup championship game.

A lot has changed in the ensuing five decades, including the energy sector. And, through it all, the Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI) was there, providing an invaluable voice in energy-related research and analysis. And, while CERI had to close its doors earlier this year due to challenges with long-term funding, its legacy will live on in the form of a unique legacy gift to the University of Calgary that will support future sustainability leaders.

“It’s quite sad to see it fold,” says Corinne Boone, CERI’s outgoing board chair. “Unbiased, Canadian-focused research, analysis and information is critical to energy matters in this country, like the transition to the low-carbon economy. And that’s the whole thesis of CERI: not to have a position, but to provide completely non-partisan analytics and research that is useful to everyone — business and industry, government policy-makers, academics, and non-governmental organizations.”

That wealth of information — 48 years’ worth of data and research — will fortunately not be lost, with CERI donating its historical record of research papers and economic models to UCalgary’s Libraries and Cultural Resources.

CERI has long been supplying the university with its studies, which examined economic and environmental issues in the energy production, transportation, and consumption sectors. Now, all this data and analysis will be available to current and future scholars and students, giving historical context to how decisions were made.

When we talk legacy, it’s important to preserve not only the work, but how it was done. It can be a teaching tool for future generations.

Interdisciplinary program spans four faculties

In addition to finding a home for its archive, there was also the question of what to do with the remaining CERI funds. The board considered putting it toward a few more studies, but decided to reach higher, creating a number of endowed scholarships for students in a unique program that spans four faculties at UCalgary.

The new scholarships benefit students taking the Master of Science in Sustainable Energy Development program (SEDV) — a combined offering through The School of Public Policy, Haskayne School of Business, Schulich School of Engineering and the Faculty of Law — which prepares the next generation of leaders in sustainable energy. 

“We're seeing an increasing need to produce and consume energy more sustainably, and it’s not simply a matter of new technology,” says SEDV’s director, Dr. Sara Hastings-Simon, PhD. “It has to work within our regulatory system. It has to be developed and integrated within the communities where it’s deployed.”

That’s why the transdisciplinary nature of SEDV is key, says Hastings-Simon: “We’re not only covering both the science and technology of energy production and distribution, but also the economic, regulatory, social and legal aspects.”

The program, which has more than 400 graduates to date, is a prime example of the retraining and reskilling needed to keep Calgary and Alberta at the forefront of the energy sector. And, through its investment in SEDV scholarships, CERI’s mission endures even as it winds down operations.

Partnership comes full circle

CERI’s long-standing partnership with UCalgary, going back to the inception of CERI nearly half a century ago, also persists. Being housed in University Research Park, students and scholars over the years have played an active role in CERI’s work. UCalgary president Ed McCauley, PhD, who served as a board member at CERI during his time as the university's vice-president (research), can speak for both sides as to the value of such collaboration. 

“CERI had access to scholars across the entire university — whether in economics, law, policy or geoscience engineering — all these different fields that touch on the energy system,” says McCauley. “And, for our scholars, it was an opportunity for them to demonstrate how to mobilize the knowledge they created every day at the University of Calgary, and how that knowledge can inform policy decisions associated with energy.”

That relationship made UCalgary the natural choice for the institute’s final gift — and brings to mind another full-circle moment for CERI’s outgoing president and CEO Allan Fogwill.

“When I was in my master’s program [at Simon Fraser University], way back in the ’90s and well before I joined CERI, I was using their reports in my own research and worked with some amazing people there,” says Fogwill. “So, what better place to preserve CERI’s legacy than where it all started at the University of Calgary?”