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The founder of Syd­ney startup Eco­logic, Dr John Mckib­bin, has jug­gled a full time job while de­vel­op­ing a game-chang­ing en­ergy ef­fi­ciency app for four years. Now this tech­nol­ogy, which could re­duce con­sumer power bills bet be­tween 20 and 30 per cent, will be rolled out across 8 Syd­ney coun­cils ahead of full com­mer­cial­iza­tion. Dr Mckib­bin speaks with jour­nal­ist el­iz­a­beth Fabri.

Q. Where did the idea for the Eco­logic app orig­i­nate?

The idea was orig­i­nally hatched when I was work­ing as an en­ergy pol­icy and strat­egy con­sul­tant around five years ago.

I could see that house­holds and busi­nesses had a crit­i­cal need for tai­lored and ac­tion­able en­ergy ad­vice; how­ever, all the mar­ket was de­liv­er­ing was a shop­ping list of moth­er­hood state­ments.

Over a sim­i­lar pe­riod, I was work­ing on some new al­go­rithms that dra­mat­i­cally stream­lined the process of ad­vanced build­ing en­ergy mod­el­ling, orig­i­nally as part my PHD re­search into im­proved en­ergy de­mand fore­cast­ing meth­ods.

I even­tu­ally put two and two to­gether and re­alised the pos­si­bil­i­ties of these new al­go­rithms to in­form house­holds and busi­nesses. I hadn’t built any­thing cus­tomer-fac­ing be­fore – most of my prior work in­volved num­ber crunch­ing for util­i­ties and Govern­ment agen­cies – so I re­cruited a small team of ex­pe­ri­enced web de­vel­op­ers to see if we could build an app to­gether.

Q. How does the app work, and how could it help house­holds and busi­nesses?

The app we built is es­sen­tially an ‘en­ergy concierge’ to as­sist house­holds and busi­nesses as­sess and in­stall en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, so­lar and bat­ter­ies.

You be­gin by de­scrib­ing your build­ing and ap­pli­ances us­ing a web or mo­bile app; for ex­am­ple, by draw­ing your build­ing on an aerial pho­to­graph or de­scrib­ing your heat­ing and cool­ing sys­tems.

These de­tails are then up­loaded to the cloud where we run some fancy build­ing physics, load sim­u­la­tions and fi­nan­cial mod­els.

We then re­turn a set of in­fo­graph­ics on the en­ergy and ther­mal per­for­mance of your build­ing and which ap­pli­ances are cost­ing the most en­ergy and money to run.

We then pro­vide a set of rec­om­men­da­tions tai­lored to your spe­cific cir­cum­stances, whether it be changes in be­hav­iour, build­ing per­for­mance im­prove­ments, ef­fi­cient ap­pli­ances, so­lar and/or bat­ter­ies, iden­ti­fy­ing the es­ti­mated costs, bill sav­ings and pay­back pe­riod of each mea­sure.

You then se­lect which rec­om­men­da­tions you’d like to pur­sue and we help con­nect you with qual­ity sup­pli­ers in your area.

Q. You fo­cus on re­duc­ing con­sump­tion as a so­lu­tion to ris­ing prices, which is very dif­fer­ent to the sup­ply-side ap­proaches dom­i­nat­ing na­tional dis­course. Why?

Part of my frus­tra­tion with the na­tional de­bate is our ob­ses­sion with the price of en­ergy, which in­evitably fo­cusses our at­ten­tion on the sup­ply side of the equa­tion.

This is un­for­tu­nate as the most abun­dant and af­ford­able op­tion avail­able to Aus­tralian house­holds and busi­nesses is avoid­ing us­ing en­ergy in the first place.

This ob­ses­sion is now be­ing per­pet­u­ated in the de­bate on re­li­a­bil­ity and peak de­mand. By ex­clu­sively fo­cussing on stor­age and spin­ning re­serve, we’re ig­nor­ing the much more af­ford­able and abun­dant op­por­tu­ni­ties in smart en­ergy man­age­ment and de­mand re­sponse.

The only way to tackle the trilemma of af­ford­abil­ity, re­li­a­bil­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity is to take a bal­anced ap­proach that in­cludes both the de­mand and the sup­ply side.

Q. Eco­logic was one of five star­tups se­lected for the sec­ond round of the En­er­gy­lab ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram. What do you hope to take from this ex­pe­ri­ence?

We’re a clas­sic ex­am­ple of why an or­gan­i­sa­tion like En­er­gy­lab is cru­cial.

We’ve been beaver­ing away around our day jobs with­out pay for more than four years de­vel­op­ing this tech­nol­ogy, and not ev­ery­one has the tenac­ity (or per­haps bloody-mind­ed­ness) to per­se­vere that long.

We’re ex­cited to join a co­hort of Aus­tralia’s bright­est new en­ergy star­tups, all work­ing hard to over­come one of the bar­ri­ers to the new en­ergy tran­si­tion.

Work­ing as part of the En­er­gy­lab ecosys­tem I hope we can help Aus­tralia re­claim the man­tle it once held as the world’s pow­er­house in en­ergy in­no­va­tion.

Q. You re­ceived a Jobs for NSW grant which will be used to roll­out the app across eight Syd­ney coun­cils. What does this pi­lot cam­paign in­volve?

The Jobs For NSW ‘Build­ing Part­ner­ships’ grant was es­tab­lished to help tech­nol­ogy star­tups such as us be­come the job-cre­at­ing busi­nesses of to­mor­row.

We pro­posed a new part­ner­ship model work­ing with coun­cils to pro­vide a free, in­de­pen­dent en­ergy ad­vice ser­vice to res­i­dent house­holds and busi­nesses.

Es­sen­tially the coun­cil en­cour­ages house­holds and busi­nesses to as­sess their prop­erty us­ing our web or mo­bile app, over the phone, or by en­gag­ing a pro­fes­sional walk­through as­ses­sor.

We then pro­vide a per­son­alised plan and con­nect them with a panel of sup­pli­ers that have passed a set of rig­or­ous qual­ity, price and cus­tomer ser­vice cri­te­ria.

The ul­ti­mate aim is to help res­i­dents re­duce their en­ergy bills and en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print while stimulating the growth of lo­cal new en­ergy jobs in the re­gion – a win, win, win re­ally.

Q. What’s next for Eco­logic?

We’re still only a rel­a­tively small startup but we think the ur­gency of the en­ergy tran­si­tion calls for a step change in am­bi­tion.

We will use this first large-scale pi­lot cam­paign to re­fine our so­lu­tion and build strong part­ner­ships with al­lied com­mu­ni­ties, busi­nesses, and coun­cils.

We are en­tirely cloud based and al­ready have data in place for more than 2000 lo­ca­tions around the world so we can up­scale to a global mar­ket quite rapidly.

I think the rate-lim­it­ing fac­tor will largely be our abil­ity to con­nect with the wide range of com­mu­ni­ties and busi­nesses that could ben­e­fit from our plat­form.

Q. What ad­vice would you give to other en­ergy star­tups look­ing to de­velop their tech­nol­ogy and se­cure fi­nance?

We emerged dur­ing a dif­fi­cult pe­riod in Aus­tralia where op­por­tu­ni­ties for new en­ergy star­tups were thin, how­ever this is chang­ing rapidly.

The cor­po­rate and fi­nan­cial com­mu­nity now recog­nises that the eco­nom­ics of the en­ergy tran­si­tion are un­stop­pable and that they need to get on board or fade into ob­scu­rity.

This means there are more op­por­tu­ni­ties for new en­ergy star­tups than ever be­fore.

I guess my part­ing ad­vice to a founder of a new en­ergy startup would be to back your­self; sur­round your­self with smart, pas­sion­ate peo­ple; and buckle up for one of the most de­mand­ing and re­ward­ing chal­lenges avail­able to our gen­er­a­tion.

“back your­self; sur­round your­self with smart, pas­sion­ate peo­ple; and buckle up for one of the most de­mand­ing and re­ward­ing chal­lenges avail­able to our gen­er­a­tion.”

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