The currently offered technologies include geothermal heating, solar photovoltaic, hybrid heating and electric vehicle (EV) chargers.
“We've got close to 3.9 million customers here in Ontario. We think of ourselves as an . . . energy company, rather than just a gas utility that delivers one form of energy to customers,” said Darren McIlwraith, director of product development at Enbridge Sustain.
“So at the heart of it, it's all it's been about trying to figure out what role can we play? What role can we play with customers to navigate and figure out energy transition?”
Pricing is based on the technologies and services offered, but McIlwraith said the company is trying to offer a cost comparable to or better than the default.
Enbridge (ENB-T) is a pipeline and energy company headquartered in Calgary. Its Ontario-based subsidiary Enbridge Gas Inc. is Canada's largest natural gas storage, transmission and distribution company. The distribution business serves about 3.5 million customers, heating over 75 per cent of Ontario homes.
Enbridge has a goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
Development of the new business began in October 2021, with just McIlwraith at the helm. He previously headed Enbridge’s customer care team. Over the next 14 months, Enbridge Sustain grew to 12 people focused on working with builders, selling the solutions and managing customers, as well as sorting out commercial, pricing and legal agreements.
Ontario was chosen to start with due to Enbridge’s established customer base, as well as being a reliable metric of replicability for potential expansion in other provinces.
Enbridge Sustain started with technologies that are its parent company’s core offerings, while also trying something new. McIlwraith and Enbridge consider hybrid heating to be one of the most practical and easy to implement methods in homes for reaching net-zero goals.
For solar installations, McIlwraith said Enbridge Sustain hopes to make it easier for home and business owners by offering it as a service and avoiding upfront capital costs.
“EV charging is actually, I'll be honest, one that we've stumbled into a little bit. The market we're focusing on there is a condo retrofit market,” McIlwraith said. “Condo corps would face a difficult challenge of potentially hundreds of owners in a building and a small fraction of them wanting the infrastructure for EV charging.”
The EV chargers will be Level 2. Enbridge has an already established partnership with German company SAP SE, which develops enterprise software. McIlwraith said Enbridge Sustain will be looking at working with SAP to deliver software focused on the customer management side of its EV charging business.
However, it is still figuring out the manufacturer it will use, something McIlwraith said may come down to supply chain issues over the next few months.
While Enbridge Sustain is theoretically available anywhere in Ontario, there are caveats with that availability given the size of the province.
“If we were in the more remote parts of the province . . . can we have a partner? Do we have a partner that can do all those parts of things, and we can really offer what we're selling?”
The future of Enbridge Sustain
The beginning of the EaaS business focused on commercially ready and available technologies, but McIlwraith didn’t shut down the possibility of incorporating more technologies in its offerings in the years to come.
“The most immediate one would be something like batteries,” he said. “The economics of batteries will change dramatically with the investment tax credit that's coming in. Can we turn that into a more viable value proposition for either your typical homeowner or even a small business?”
He mentioned municipalities, developers and individual homeowners already reaching out as potential customers, entertaining the possibility of new hires in the new year thanks to the level of opportunity.
Looking at the new construction market, McIlwraith hopes to have contracts in place for many customers by 2024, given the lead time on new construction.
In the retrofit market, Enbridge Sustain has a team of people building its customer system, and he said it will take another six months to build robust and scalable channels to sign customers up.
“Our ambition, there would probably be across the different products that we're selling, a thousand customers across hybrid heating and EVs and solar and geothermal.”
Ultimately, expansion into other provinces isn’t dependent on reaching a certain customer count. Instead, its about proving its viability as a business.
“It's all about success,” he said. “And you're demonstrating that we're helping energy transition along versus just, things are continuing at the same pace.”