John McKibbin

Ecologic Apps, an energy efficiency tech firm planning to “uberise” the building energy services sector and make rating building performance a simple proposition, has been announced as one of five new start-ups to join the EnergyLab clean energy accelerator program.

EcoLogic founder John McKibbin said it had been a “bit of a journey” finding a way to market the company’s initial product.

The self-assessment app for households or small businesses is free and available online, however, substantial marketing has not been undertaken yet.

The company has also recently developed a business-to-business solution for building energy professionals to use in consultations.

Dr McKibbin said the product was an attempt to “uberise” the building energy services sector, and aimed to “revitalise the assessment and energy services market” by streamlining the consultation process.

Councils on the agenda

After developing the B2B product, the company next developed a channel partner product for councils, energy NGOs and utilities to assist development of “mass scale” energy efficiency and solar campaigns.

“There is a lot of interest from councils that have been approached by residents wanting independent energy advice,” Dr McKibbin told The Fifth Estate.

“The product is a way to provide that at a much more affordable level.”

A conventional energy audit involving an assessor walk-through generally costs at least $400, he said. That has meant councils have only been able to offer a limited number, for example, around 40 or 50 as part of a program.

That is just a drop in the bucket compared to the number of households that could benefit.

The product being offered for councils and other organisations uses a “crowd-sourced energy audit” approach gathering building and appliance data using a self-assessment campaign, Dr McKibbin said.

A lot of the assessment process is automated.

The goal is not to replace energy assessors, he said – those professionals will still be needed for more complex and challenging jobs.

The first pilot of the product being used by councils will soon be underway in Sydney. The company is also exploring similar campaigns in most capital cities in partnership with councils and NGOs.

Another area the company is engaged with is collaborating with utilities including network businesses and retailers to create an “integrated utility service” model.

Those companies might want to get involved “behind the meter” with their customers, Dr McKibbin said.

They can achieve “deeper relationships” with customers by providing them with a personal energy savings plan developed by an EcoLogic app.

Instead of just “selling electrons”, the utility can deliver a “full energy customer experience”, including providing suggestions for solar PV and energy efficiency technologies.

It becomes a more “quality oriented service”.

Bringing energy modelling and ratings to the people

Another field Dr McKibbin said the company wants to push into is the growing momentum around energy ratings for existing buildings.

With energy prices growing, real estate customers are now paying more attention to the energy performance of properties, he said.

“Recent research showed people are willing to pay for energy features.”

So the company is exploring an offering for real estate agents to use so they can give potential buyers or tenants an idea of the likely performance and comfort levels of a property.

The latest generations of the apps use computational geometry algorithms that enable the creation of a 3D model of a building using aerial photographs, and then the creation of an advanced EnergyPlus simulation model, Dr McKibbin said.

He said while there may be some concerns the company is “dumbing down” the building energy modelling space, the products were about reaching the people that simply could not afford complex building energy audits or modelling.

In terms of the big picture, the fact the app enables people to achieve between 20 to 30 per cent reductions in energy use through taking the suggested portfolio of measures could deliver substantial emissions reductions across the built environment, given broad uptake.

The company is strongly targeting existing buildings completed before the National Construction Code had energy and thermal performance requirements, Dr McKibbin said.

“We are all talking about energy prices, but the biggest lever for households to do something about them is by looking at the amount of energy they consume.

“It is important to recognise that energy prices are becoming a significant burden on low-income households.”

The benefits of the clean energy accelerator

Dr McKibbin is excited about what being located at EnergyLab and being part of the accelerator program means not just for his business, but for the whole energy transformation.

“We’re a classic example of why we need it,” he said. “Not everyone is tenacious enough to plug away around their day job for four years!”

Being at EnergyLab now lets the company be part of something “bigger” and puts it in a position to collaborate with other start-ups.

“Everyone in EnergyLab is trying to overcome some challenge or barrier in this energy transition.”

Others added to the program include Ryde Green, a kick-scooter sharing program; Everty, a peer-to-peer EV charging network; PV Mate, a B2B solar PV bidding and job management platform; and OPTIM Controls, a technical support platform for industrial equipment.

As part of participating in the accelerator, the start-ups will receive support from a range of organisations to grow their business and secure additional funding. Partners include Origin, UTS, Jobs for NSW and Climate-KIC.

“Many of the technologies that will shape the future of the Australian energy industry will come from local start-ups, and we are excited to welcome this latest cohort to EnergyLab,” Origin executive general manger, future energy and business development Tony Lucas said.

“As Australia is moving towards a cleaner and smarter energy future where customers have greater control and transparency over their energy use, we need to be investing in the brightest and best ideas.”

The first cohort of start ups were taken into the accelerator in May this year, and a second round of applicants called for immediately.

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