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opinion

The EV trend will have a widespread impact on Canada’s oil and gas and power and utilities sectors, in particular.Simon Dawson/Reuters

Kent Kaufield is the EY Canada Energy Leader. He is based in Calgary.

Electric-vehicle adoption is on the rise in Canada, but what’s unknown is how quickly the pace of change will be over the next decade – and what impact that will have on the Canadian energy landscape.

Canadians are eager to ditch their combustion engines with the right incentives. The federal government recently announced that its $300-million EV rebate program – one that was supposed to last three years – is nearly half depleted in just eight months. The first-come, first-served $5,000 rebate off new electric or hybrid passenger vehicles has been incredibly popular, and Transport Canada says more than $134-million in rebates have been issued to 33,000 Canadians. EV sales also jumped 32 per cent after the rebates were launched compared with the year before.

However, incentives are just one piece of the puzzle. There are several other factors that influence purchasing an EV, such as charging infrastructure, battery performance and availability. But that’s changing, too. According to U.S. media reports, there will be more than 100 new plug-in models hitting the U.S. market in the next five years or so, which are likely to trickle into Canada. We already saw three of those advertised during the Super Bowl, making up more than a third of the auto ads in this year’s telecast.

It’s clear the automotive industry is changing rapidly. Car makers are investing more in new models as a response to growing concerns around climate change and stricter emissions. As the auto industry changes, so will others.

The EV trend will have a widespread impact on Canada’s oil and gas and power and utilities sectors, in particular. The challenge right now is debating how quickly that change will come. Recognizing this, global professional services firm EY recently published a study that examines three potential scenarios when it comes to Canadian consumers’ EV adoption by the year 2030: rapid, moderate and slow.

Generally, sales of EVs in Canada are growing, with a 165-per-cent year-over-year increase in 2018 compared with 2017. Canada is also the 10th-fastest adopter of EVs in the world. To ignore the possibility that the trend might accelerate in the next decade, particularly in Canada’s urban centres, would be irresponsible.

The most aggressive scenario – placing Canadian EV adoption at 30 per cent by 2030 – for example, could reduce oil consumption by roughly 252,000 barrels a day. In this scenario, we could expect oil and gas companies to diversify their portfolios by expanding further into the power and utilities sector, increase their focus on petrochemical products and intensify their efforts to develop new revenue streams for existing products by gaining tidewater access to enter new markets. Electricity companies will also continue to create joint ventures with hotels, restaurants, technology companies and retail stores to offer easy and convenient vehicle charging to consumers.

We’re already seeing some large energy companies increasingly focused on diversifying their portfolios into renewables and petrochemicals. Suncor Energy recently finished installing more than 50 EV fast-charging stations along the TransCanada highway, while Royal Dutch Shell PLC acquired a British renewables power retailer. These are clear indicators that companies are focused on future-proofing the business.

That’s why scenario planning is so critical for Canada’s energy sector. It’s a tried, tested and true method of helping companies and industries anticipate what’s looming on the horizon and plan for it. It’s about challenging past beliefs, listening to diverse perspectives and plotting strategy options based on future assumptions, not historical results. Whether adoption is rapid or not, it would be dangerous not to thoroughly consider the possibilities. There won’t be time for playing catch-up.