NEWS RELEASE: Smart Energy Benchmarking Initiative Informs Acceleration to Clean, Modern and Customer-Centric Grids
Electric utilities are key actors in the energy transition. Not only must our electricity system continue to be reliable, safe, and affordable, but also clean, resilient, and equitable to power Canada’s low-carbon economy and help us reach net-zero. Getting there will be a significant challenge; utilities must simultaneously decarbonize existing supply and expand the system to accommodate the 2-3x growth in demand expected by 2050 as we electrify vehicles, buildings, and industry.
To help utilities meet this challenge, the Smart Grid Innovation Network Canada (SGIN) has announced the Smart Energy Benchmark initiative. SGIN has partnered with three of its members – Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors, Siemens and the University of New Brunswick (UNB) – to develop a three-phase, Initiative. This work is funded by Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways (SREP) Capacity Building stream and with the support of Mitacs. The objective of the initiative is to help Canadian electric utilities acquire the knowledge, skills, and tools to incorporate renewable energy, modernize the grid, and support equity, diversity and inclusion. It also serves to celebrate utility leadership in the energy transition and captures key insights that can support other utilities on their pathways, as well as other stakeholders.
To date, two phases of the work are complete, with the third phase currently underway.
Twelve utilities from six provinces voluntarily participated in the initiative. Collectively these 12 utilities serve close to 7.5 million customers, representing almost half of electric utility customers in Canada. They also represent Canada’s diverse electricity sector in terms of their size, type, ownership, regulatory structure, and clean energy supply.
Phase 1 – Benchmarking Utility Progress
The first phase of the initiative, led by Dunsky, was to develop a scorecard to benchmark utility efforts and progress towards a clean, modern and customer-centric grid. It represents a comprehensive, robust and utility-supported framework to assess electric utility decarbonization efforts and progress. With 140+ indicators across 13 metrics, the scorecard collectively assessed the progress of participating utilities towards three core goals: 1) cleaning energy supply, 2) transitioning to a modern grid, and 3) enabling customers and society goals.
The 12 utilities, not surprisingly, are at different stages of the decarbonization process. All 12 participants demonstrated leadership across certain metrics and indicators. Several benefited from having a relatively clean or non-emitting grid, but utilities shone in other indicators such as corporate leadership, enhanced grid planning and management, climate resiliency, comprehensive electrification strategies, customer engagement, and equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives.
More broadly, results from the benchmarking highlight insights on the broader progress and pathways for Canadian utilities’ decarbonization journey. This includes:
- Everyone is on board: although they are at various stages of progress, Canadian utilities have recognized the urgency to prepare their grids and organizations for the energy transition.
- No one size fits all: the diversity of Canadian utilities matches the diversity of Canada’s energy markets. While learnings can – and should – travel across provincial boundaries, the unique regulatory and market contexts each utility operates in must be considered when comparing progress, ambitions, and pathways to net-zero.
- Utility innovation is a necessary driver of the transition: While utilities have historically been viewed as risk-averse, there is increasing recognition and momentum that utilities have a critical role to play in enabling and leveraging Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), smart grid technologies and other innovations to support the energy transition.
- Utilities can’t do it alone: Utilities are facing a massive transformation, and they cannot do it alone. Policy and regulatory frameworks must keep up with the magnitude and pace of change in the sector by removing barriers that are constraining utilities’ efforts as well as supporting utilities in delivering on their expanded mandates.
- The energy transition is an opportunity: The pace and magnitude of change required for the energy transition can be challenging;however, it is equally an opportunity. The energy transition presents an opportunity to enhance our power system’s resiliency and reliability, achieve long-term operational cost savings, create economic opportunities, empower our communities , secure a competitive advantage and indeed, ensure a more sustainable future for all Canadians.
Phase 2 – Capability Maturity Model Support
The second phase of the initiative, led by Siemens’ Power Technologies International (PTI Consulting), was to develop a Utility Capability Assessment with the objective of creating a framework that serves as a support tool for utilities in the planning of strategic programs that advance Smart Energy objectives.
The Capability Model builds on the Smart Energy scorecard and is intended to help utilities understand where they stand today and how they compare to others with their ability to realize objectives supporting the energy transition. This includes identifying key processes and use cases that have been implemented and comparing these to aspirational levels of capability and to those of other utilities.
A subset of seven utilities from Phase 1 participated in this phase and performed the assessment.
The results of this assessment were then used to inform recommendations on specific areas that can be matured by proposing initiatives that would drive the development of the changes in people, processes, and technology associated with the target level of capability.
Some general key insights from this phase include:
- Size matters: large vertically integrated utilities typically have a greater scope of service as well as regulatory constraints which can mean larger hurdles to overall capability maturity. The dimensions and interdependencies between business groups within a larger organization can increase the effort and significantly challenge change management enablement.
- Policy direction is a significant driver: similar to the size of the utility, the influence of government and regulatory policy has a greater impact on the priorities and constraints of larger, vertically integrated utilities. This can significantly influence how the utility prioritizes grid modernization and business transformation activities.
More detailed findings are described in the second phase of the report.
In its first iteration, the Smart Energy Benchmarking Initiative demonstrates the value that comes from utility and industry collaboration in getting to net-zero. The insights that have come from the project – and the varied expertise brought by SGIN, Dunsky, Siemens and UNB – are already helping utilities make more informed decisions and focusing their decarbonization efforts.
We look forward to welcoming more utility participants in future phases of this initiative, and to further strengthening utility capacity to meet net-zero goals.
Utilities interested in participating in a future version of this initiative should contact email@example.com.
To read details about our methodology, in-depth utility results and insights, please consult the report below.
“As intense electrification becomes more and more important as a decarbonization strategy for Canada, the key actors in the electricity sector will carry a lot of the responsibility or Canada’s ability to meet its net zero targets. We are proud to be part of this important benchmarking project in collaboration with Dunsky, Siemens, and the University of New Brunswick to build out Canada’s first scorecard.”
– Greg Robart, CEO, Smart Grid Innovation Network Canada
“The Smart Energy Benchmarking Initiative has been an excellent opportunity to examine the critical role of the electricity sector in enabling energy transformation across Canada. I look forward to sharing the insights from this initiative and continuing to collaborate with our members on best practices, advancing decarbonization through broad electrification and further adoption of renewable energy.”
– Jeff Mocha, Board Chair, SGIN, and Chief Engineering & Innovation Officer, OEC
“The scorecard demonstrates that decarbonization efforts are gaining momentum at electric utilities across Canada, even among smaller utilities. Across the board, we found a sincere commitment to supporting net-zero and to getting it right.”
-Lauren McNutt, Managing Consultant, Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors
“While most utilities recognize the need, and have initiated programs to transform their businesses for the energy transition, defining clear objectives and identifying the steps to achieve them can be challenging. The Smart Energy Capability Model will help utilities develop a roadmap or blueprint for grid and business modernization programs, aligning efforts across various departments on the capabilities needed to realize business value.”
-Giles Counsell, Smart Energy Lead, Siemens
The Smart Grid Innovation Network Canada is a national non-profit organization that works to promote, identify, and enable smart energy solutions and enable energy implementation in Canada. SGIN fosters Canada’s transition to clean energy and helps to build stronger, more resilient communities and a sustainable economy.
About Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors
Dunsky supports leading governments, utilities, corporations and others across North America in their efforts to accelerate the clean energy transition, effectively and responsibly. With deep expertise across the Buildings, Mobility, Industry and Energy supply sectors, our team of 50+ professionals supports clients in two ways: through rigorous Analysis (of technical, economic and market opportunities) and by designing or assessing leading Strategies (plans, programs and policies).
Siemens Canada is a technology company focused on industry, infrastructure, transport, and healthcare. From more resource-efficient factories, resilient supply chains, and smarter buildings and grids, to cleaner and more comfortable transportation as well as advanced healthcare, the company creates technology with purpose, adding real value for customers since 1912. By combining the real and the digital worlds, Siemens empowers its customers to transform their industries and markets, to transform the everyday for billions of people. Siemens also owns a majority stake in the publicly listed company Siemens Healthineers, a globally leading medical technology provider shaping the future of healthcare. In addition, Siemens holds a minority stake in Siemens Energy, a global leader in the transmission and generation of electrical power. As of September 30, 2023, the company has approximately 4,200 employees from coast-to-coast and 33 office and production facilities across Canada. Further information is available at www.siemens.ca