It's a lofty $200-million vision of new and clean energy that the University of Calgary unveiled in the heart of the oilpatch.
The university's Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE) is going after 1,000 more students per year and up to 100 new faculty members over the next few years, U of C president Harvey Weingarten told a Calgary Petroleum Club audience last week.
The plan includes more than 23,000 sq. m of new and renovated space on campus for energy and environmental research.
The vision will cost an estimated $200 million over the next four to five years. But is it affordable, or achievable?
Weingarten believes Albertans can't afford not to achieve it - the sooner the better, given the energy industry's crucial importance to the province's economy and the growing challenges the industry faces.
"It's urgent. We need many, many more people coming out of our universities, trained in areas related to energy and the environment," he says.
"The industry should be driving us more, and faster," Weingarten adds. "And it's a fantastic investment for the government to make in both education and research."
Without making that investment, he warns, "we can't sustain the quality of life that we want as Canadians."
How will governments pay for a topnotch health-care system, for example, if they don't have the oil and gas royalties and taxes that in 2003 pumped $16 billion into government revenues?
I must declare an interest here, dear reader. This column is the first piece of reportage in my 25 years as a journalist in Calgary that I'm writing while working for an organization other than a media outlet.
Regular Business Edge readers will recognize me as an energy columnist for and a frequent contributor to this publication. I'm stepping back from those tasks for the next six months.
This month, I started working as a part-time communications consultant to ISEEE.
A big reason I took the job is because I believe, like Weingarten and other champions of ISEEE, that the institute's vision is vitally important to our future well-being and prosperity.
Just how important was brought home at the Petroleum Club in presentations by four ISEEE researchers: Don Lawton, Pedro Pereira-Almao, Viola Birss and Harrie Vredenburg.
They are leading experts in, respectively, advanced geophysical imaging, enhanced oilsands extraction and upgrading, fuel cells, and sustainable development.
Oil, natural gas, coal and, increasingly, the oilsands, fuel Alberta's economy and make it the strongest in Canada. But all these fossil fuels face daunting economic challenges and environmental problems.
Production of conventional oil has peaked and begun to decline. Natural gas supplies are limited and the price of gas continues to climb.
Alberta has lots of coal. But it is still widely regarded as the dirtiest of fossil fuels, even though coal-fired electricity is much cleaner than it was 20 years ago.
In the oilsands, bitumen mining and steam-injection operations consume enormous quantities of natural gas and precious water, emit huge amounts of greenhouse gases and disturb vast stretches of the landscape.
As the ISEEE researchers pointed out, we can't continue to exploit these fossil fuels using our current approaches. Business as usual is simply not sustainable.
We urgently need new technologies to find, produce and use fossil fuels in ways that are much cleaner, more cost-efficient and friendlier to the environment.
At the same time, we need more investment in alternative and renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, biomass and fuel cells.
ISEEE's mission is to integrate and co-ordinate research and development in the areas of sustainable energy, environment and economy.
More importantly, ISEEE aims to get the innovations out of the laboratory and into the marketplace, for practical use by the petroleum and other energy sectors.
The institute's researchers delivered a common message at the Petroleum Club: They want to work with Alberta's energy industry and other partners, including governments and other research institutions.
It's the quickest, most effective way to find solutions to our pressing energy, environmental and economic challenges - and to tap into the opportunities.
Researchers at ISEEE (www.iseee.ca) indeed have lofty goals, including turning oilsands reservoirs into underground "factories" that produce upgraded oil with few or no environmental impacts.
I share their vision that Alberta can be not only Canada's energy province, but Canada's clean energy province.
(Mark Lowey is the editor of EnviroLine, a communications consultant to ISEEE and, for the next six months, an occasional contributor to Business Edge.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)