Sweltering summers and scorching energy bills: Citizen scientists can help ease the sizzle

By Melina Gillespie

13 December 2018

3 minute read

Close up of powerlines with a sunset behind them

As we slide into summer, we’re already experiencing scorching temperatures in many areas across the country.

Making decisions on energy use

It’s perhaps to be expected then, that some Australian households will face stress as summer heats up, both in terms of the heat and rising electricity bills. When air conditioners, extra fridges and pool pumps are in heavy use, some households are faced with tough decisions about how they balance their comfort with potential impacts on the environment and energy costs.

A survey showed that two-thirds of our CSIRO Energise citizen scientists have experienced increases in their energy bills over the past few years. That is bound to change the way we use energy, but what do those changes look like when the comfort, and even the health, of your family is at stake?

To complicate things further, super-hot summer days can place Australia’s electricity grid under immense strain. We can go from needing a constant dribble of energy, to a sudden demand for massive amounts of power. These spikes in demand can impact our energy systems, and that can edge us ever closer to the lights going out.

Collating energy-use data

So what can be done? That’s exactly the question we’re looking to answer.

Surprisingly little is known about the way Australians think, choose and act on peak summer days, and how their homes, bills, comfort and technology options affect those in-the-moment energy decisions. More importantly, the real, practical pathway to lowering energy bills, reducing our risk of blackout, and maximising our wellbeing, comfort and health remain elusive.

So we are conducting a study into how Australian households engage with energy on the hottest days of the year. The study will help us answer things like:

Energy citizen scientists

We think the best way to learn how people use energy is simply to ask, so we’ve done that through our CSIRO Energise app over summer. The app allowed our researchers to look at what was happening in your energy world, as things are heating up. That input will help us gain deeper insights into how Australians manage their energy on the hottest days of the year, and will directly inform our research into how to unlock a more sustainable and manageable summer of energy for everyone.

In the 2018/2019 summer, hundreds of people downloaded the CSIRO Energise mobile app, and as citizen scientists, took part in our Summer Energy Study. People have told us about how you use energy, what it means to you, and where summer is hitting you the hardest.

Now that the first Energise app experiment has finished, we’re looking at the data. The data we’ve collected will help us explore a range of challenges and opportunities facing the energy sector. The ultimate goal? A more reliable, sustainable and affordable energy future for all Australians.

As we learn more, our researchers will be telling you about their discoveries by providing some of the overall results on the NEAR (National Energy Analytics Research) Program.