Eddy Isaacs, FCAE, is President of Eddy Isaacs, Inc. and Strategic Advisor, Engineering, University of Alberta. He was most recently the Chief Executive Officer of Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions (AI-EES). As CEO of AI-EES, Dr. Isaacs was responsible for Alberta’s strategic directions and technology investments in the areas of energy, renewables and emerging resources, and water and environmental management. He worked to broaden collaborations and strengthen partnerships with industry and governments and to leverage the expertise and resources needed to position Alberta as a leader in energy and environmental innovation.
Dr. Isaacs has been instrumental in promoting innovation in energy and environment across Canada and has served as Co-Chair of the Energy Technology Working Group of the Canadian Council of Energy Ministers. He has been a member of the CCA’s Scientific Advisory Committee since December 2015. He was also a member of the CCA’s Expert Panel on Energy Use and Climate Change.
Q: You’ve had a significant career in the areas of energy and environmental innovation. Can you share one or two career highlights?
A: My first job after university was at the Oil Sands Research Department at the then Alberta Research Council. We were a small community of researchers working with industry, the universities, and federal labs. I remember the excitement as we used surface and colloid science to discover more and more about the special properties of the oil sands and drive towards commercializing in situ oil sands operations. I also recall the positive response to the quality of our work from professors like Clay Radke at the University of California, Berkeley and the late Stanley Mason at McGill, who were frequent visitors to our facilities and provided critique of our work. In short, it was an incredible learning process and by working as teams we not only carried out world-class research but also supported the commercialization of SAGD (Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage) technology.
In the last 16 years, I was head of the Alberta Energy Research Institute and its successor organization, Alberta Innovates — Energy and Environment Solutions. The highlight was the growth of a staff working together to develop the skills and the tools to properly manage a large portfolio of energy and environmental research and technology projects (over 150 at any one time). We progressed from being a funding organization to having the expertise/capabilities to contribute significantly to advance the research or technology in energy and environment. In addition to working with highly knowledgeable staff, I worked with an exceptional Board of Directors who provided the needed oversight and business acumen essential for our work.
Q: When you began your post-secondary education, what kind of career path did you envision for yourself?
A: At that time, I was just not aware of all the options or how one goes about shaping a career. I developed a passion for science when I attended an elementary school in Iran and that was heightened in the two years I spent in boarding school in the United Kingdom. My family had sacrificed a great deal to make it possible for me to continue my education, so my focus was to go to university and study science or engineering. But after that it was a matter of hope and luck that it would all work out….it did.
Q: As someone who “hunts for novel energy technologies for a living,” what are some of the trends that you see for Alberta’s future in energy and environment and/or for Canada more generally?
A: We are in a new energy era and technology is changing fast both on the renewable energy and fossil fuels sides. At the same time, societal values are changing rapidly and the public expectations are at an all-time high when it comes to the environment and respect for nature. Canada is largely a resource-based economy and the transition to a low-carbon economy will be a huge and complex undertaking. To remain competitive, we must increase the pace of innovation in a digital age and be at the forefront of technologies that will change the way energy is used and delivered. Alberta has demonstrated many times that industry-government partnerships are essential for innovative solutions. In this new age, the partnership must include the environmental and Indigenous communities. In short, our world is changing rapidly, the issues are growing in complexity, and we need to anticipate what will be coming and the only way to shape the future is through innovation — we can’t be amateurs and still play the game.
Q: As a member of the Expert Panel on Energy Use and Climate Change, do you have any reflections on the CCA’s expert panel process?
A: It is a unique process that brings together people of different backgrounds and ideas that collectively have a broad range of multi-sectoral expertise. The CCA’s talent is in the selection of experts and in providing them with the tools and the staff support they need to apply an evidence-based analysis approach to guide decision-makers and Canadians on authentic policy options. In the expert panel in which I participated, we reached alignment after much collegial discourse on strategies to limit the costs of climate change policy and design policies that provide flexibility so that the least-cost emission reduction strategies can be used before more expensive strategies. As a result of my participation in the expert panel, I have expanded my thinking about our country and its response to the challenges of climate change.
Q: You have also been a member of the CCA’s Scientific Advisory Committee for a year now (since December 2015), where you provide advice on the composition of panels and scientific insight for potential assessments. What attracted you to being a part of this aspect of the CCA’s process?
A: Participating in an expert panel made me realize what a powerful difference an organization like the CCA can make in positioning the country for the future through rational and independent analysis of the evidence. My involvement with the Canadian Academy of Engineering (CAE) was also a factor, as I believe that the achievements of the CCA are a positive reflection on member academies such as the CAE. My goal is to make sure that the CCA and CAE work together in a mutually supportive manner.
Q: Is there anything you are reading or watching for fun right now?
A: I am currently back to reading Agatha Christie mysteries after more than 30 years of respite. Not sure if it will last but it is relaxing before falling asleep. In terms of fun, I follow Liverpool, an English soccer team, and watch them whenever I can. For anyone who cares, they are currently in third place in the Premiership table.