Lighting up Australia’s energy future: the CSIRO Energise app needs you

By Jesse Hawley

19 June 2018

4 minute read


Sue Jackson/CC

If you remember the last time you rifled through the candle drawer during a blackout, you’ll remember that blackouts shine a light on our total dependence on electricity: the food in the fridge, the lights, the WiFi…the phone charger. Our lives are electric.

Since electricity is the fuel of modern society, you might imagine a faultless national map for how we use our energy, the power grid that distributes it, the various sources that generate it, and how that might transform as we transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable ones. But—it’s not without fault, it has pieces missing, or yet to be described at all, and there are many ways it could be improved.

Before we tell you why such a thing is vitally important, we’re going to tell you how it would be built and how you’re going to build it for us. ‘…what was that?’ Oh…nothing.

Power to the people, right on

Any useful model, or representation, of Australia’s energy use needs input from Australian homes: how much power they use, with what appliances, and at what times. And in our homes, even in this age of enlightenment and smartphones—the world’s knowledge (and megaphone) at our fingertips—we’re often left feeling powerless to contribute, kept in the dark as decisions are made about our energy futures.

*Ting*—an idea: Why not play match-maker and empower Australians to contribute energy use data, allowing Australians to build their own energy model? The ‘Energy Use Data Model’; the map-makers’ map. And that’s what our research group, led by Dr Adam Berry, is doing.

The CSIRO Energise app

‘An app?’ you say, bells raising, flags ringing. Yes—there are plenty of apps, each vying for our time and attention, but this isn’t about push notifications or crushing lollies. It’s about science. Citizen science and a dialogue.

What data will you be contributing? Stuff you might tell an enquiring house guest: household characteristics, appliances, uptake of renewables, all via micro-surveys.

An example survey question complete with tantalising progress bar.

CSIRO Energise has a two-way focus: it collects the information you submit and, in exchange, provides you with exciting updates on our science.

And not only will your information contribute to household-level insights, but also to the ‘big picture’ scale, allowing us to build the right technologies and solutions that will come to support Australian households in the future.

‘At the moment, as a nation, we do a great job at coming up with awesome tech,’ says Dr Berry, project lead ‘—but it’s a bit like buying a birthday present for someone you don’t know well: you can get them a present you think is awesome, but it might be entirely the wrong thing for what they really want or need…

‘In Australia, we don’t know enough about how households interact with energy, what it means to them and what their pain points are.  If we don’t understand the relationship between householder, house, and energy use, then we as a nation are never going to make the best policies, technologies, and products for those households. We are left guessing at what hurts and what could work…’

On a more immediate scale, users of the app will receive content and have access to data:

520 brownie points. Nice.

And don’t worry about the energy taken from your phone. We crunched the numbers: if you charge your phone for three hours a day, in the entire year, it’ll cost you just $1. HTC 10, you’re a bit over…

What’s so important? I switched off

Thanks for your refreshing honesty.

With your help via CSIRO Energise, not only can we illuminate Australia’s current energy landscape, but we can start shifting it to where it needs to go. And that needs data.

‘If we don’t have the data about these massive shifts and what they mean to Australia, then we are running blind – and that is not a good way to design an optimal future!’ says Dr Berry.

It goes without saying, but everyone runs blind in a blackout.