The e-mobility customer experience will shape the grid of the future. Are utilities ready?
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Apr 5, 2023
Sara Ganowski

As more EV customers plug into the grid, the role of today’s electric utilities — or Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) — must evolve

Among Canada’s many drivers of electrification, the evolving energy customer, whose lives are in the process of being reoriented around EVs and e-mobility, is emerging as an unstoppable force.

As more EV customers plug into the grid, the role of today’s electric utilities — or Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) — must evolve

Canada has many drivers of electrification. The evolving energy customers, whose lives are in the process of being reoriented around EVs and e-mobility, is emerging as an unstoppable force.

Our most recent energy transition report finds that 50 per cent of residential customers surveyed are interested in monitoring energy usage, reducing environmental impact and purchasing new energy products and services. It’s a trend that has increased in the past year. Meanwhile, the number of consumers considering an EV has doubled in the same period. Fifty-three per cent of Canadian consumers are interested in purchasing an EV in the next three years.

To keep pace, our research predicts Canada will require 1.1 million EV chargers by 2025 and 9.9 million by 2035. Delivering the charging infrastructure required to power Canada’s future EV drivers is one challenge. Building a flexible, customer-centric grid that can manage all those e-mobility vehicles is another.

EV adoption and the future grid

As more EV customers plug into the grid, the role of today’s electric utilities — or Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) — must evolve to meet this customer of the future. Successful EV grid integration and a great customer experience hinge on the ability for today’s utilities to digitize their operations, enable real-time and bi-directional customer engagement and ensure seamless integration of clean, distributed energy resources.

Across the globe, we’re already seeing this transition unfold. More network operators (entities that own and control the electricity distribution network) are taking steps to evolve their role from passive into real-time Distribution System Operators (DSOs). They manage active distribution systems comprising of distributed generation and flexible energy resources — including EVs.

In Europe, network operators are on a journey to serve as facilitators of open and flexible energy markets. This creates capacity in their systems while enabling customers as active participants in the energy — and the EV transition.

In the United Kingdom, for example, residential EV drivers are opting in daily into smart charging programs. Industrial customers get incentives to modulate their energy consumption to help curb peaks in electricity demand. And electric fleet operators are bidding into local capacity markets for kickbacks on their operational costs.

Canada is not far behind this new energy future. But there are key steps that utilities must take to help us get there.

DSOs at the core of e-mobility development

As e-mobility accelerates, network operators will need to better understand and manage their customers’ driving and charging patterns to ensure the grid continues to operate safely, efficiently and reliably. It’s a necessity for both a functional electricity network and great customer experience.

If managed properly, EV uptake can provide a valuable flexibility resource and a customer engagement lever for utilities. Set-and-forget smart charging, back-up power and the ability to earn from an EV’s battery are some of the promised benefits to EV adopters. But all of which requires a step change in the traditionally passive utility-customer relationship.

DSOs will play a critical role in enabling e-mobility, the grid and charging infrastructure required to support it. Customer experience is central to both.

Advancing e-mobility as part of a DSO transition

Here are five takeaways on how today’s utilities can lay the foundation to become tomorrow’s DSOs.

  1. Create a vision and business case. Utilities must align with internal and external stakeholders in shaping their evolving market and the business case for enabling e-mobility on an active network. E-mobility needs to be in the fabric of utility energy transition strategies.
  2. Connect customers, faster and cheaper. Utilities can prepare for operating a future distributed network with flexible assets like EVs by strengthening their core capabilities. Delays and unexpected costs for grid connections are among the top barriers to charging infrastructure rollouts. Connecting new e-mobility customers to the grid must occur proactively and cost-effectively.
  3. Engage the EV customer along their journey. More customers are turning to their utilities in their own energy transition activities. Our energy transition report shows 78 per cent of Canadian consumers want their utility provider to play a stronger role in their new energy solution experience — including the adoption of EVs.
  4. Build a robust partnership ecosystem. There will be tremendous strength in collaboration. Network operators need to strategically partner with customers, technology providers, chargepoint operators, regulators, governments, research organizations, data experts and intelligent grid platforms.
  5. Take advantage of R&D and innovation funding now. Innovation dollars go a long way in accelerating future grid investments. Canada’s 2023 Federal Budget recently announced over $21 billion for clean energy and tech investments and $55 billion in planned tax credits in the sector. Utilities can tap into this funding to advance e-mobility and DSO transitions now.

By taking this customer-centric and collaborative approach to advancing EV and DSO evolutions, today’s network operators are well positioned to make Canada a leader in the energy transition.

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Photo: Sara Ganowski

Sara Ganowski is a Manager in EY Canada’s eMobility and Power & Utilities Practice.

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