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 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.