COVID-19 has forced the world indoors – those who are lucky to be working are likely doing so from laptops at home; children are attending school on WebEx and Tiger King is keeping us equally baffled and entertained.
But all this indoor activity is ramping up our utility costs, adding extra burden to already tightened finances. Luckily Dr Vanessa Rauland, a PhD graduate with the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute, has an innovative solution called ClimateClever Homes. It’s a data-driven app that measures, monitors and compares your household energy and water consumption, while providing ways for you to live more sustainably and save money in the process.
How it works
The app is based around three interconnected modules – Measure, Audit and Action. If you want to focus on your electricity usage and costs, for instance, you first need to understand your baseline consumption. To do this, you’d take last year’s power bills and enter the consumption and costs into the app’s ‘Measure’ component.
In ‘Audit’ you can identify and add appliances that are using electricity in your household in areas like lighting and heating, to understand where your consumption is coming from.
The ‘Action’ module analyses your data to produce a range of tailored tips and tasks that you can carry out to reduce your power expenses and carbon footprint.
“You can choose from ‘low cost actions’, through to ones that may cost you something at the outset, like solar panels, but which have a big impact on your carbon footprint,” Rauland explains.
“There are a lot of actions that can be done around the house for no cost, such as making sure your air conditioner and heating is set correctly, only filling up the kettle with as much water as you need for each cup, having shorter showers or not using the clothes dryer when it’s sunny outside.
“These things are particularly important right now as we may have more appliances switched on.”
The power to act on climate change
Australian households are responsible for around 20 per cent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, with each household producing roughly seven tonnes annually. Rauland says with the Homes app, it’s possible to reduce this amount by at least 10–15 per cent with minimal financial outlay.
“It doesn’t matter what your income is or how good the design of your house is, we can all do things within our means to live more sustainably and more affordably.”
Doing our bit for the planet has become critical in the wake of Australia’s horrific bushfire season, which exposed a lack of political leadership on climate policy.
“The bushfires have made a lot of voters realise that climate change is an issue – it is a very clear signal that times are changing,” Rauland says.
“We’re not waiting for the government [to act on climate change]. Certainly the government has a massive role to play, but we can all be doing something and all have the power to do something.”
How to start a start-up
ClimateClever Homes is the second app in the suite, following on from the success of ClimateClever Schools, which Rauland began in 2012 after she and her colleague, Dr Samantha Hall, volunteered to help a Perth high school become the first carbon neutral school in Australia.
“That school went on to save hundreds of thousands of dollars on their utility bills, significantly reduce their carbon and environmental footprint, and educate their students and school community around climate change, sustainability and resource efficiency.
“And while we knew that schools weren’t the biggest producers of carbon emissions, the thing that really stuck with me was this realisation that, by targeting schools and kids taking knowledge home, we have the potential to influence and educate a large segment of society.”
“I learnt so much from those programs. Each provided me with invaluable skills and knowledge that I have applied time and again throughout my entrepreneurial journey. They also helped me to create an amazing network of contacts.”
In early 2018, she secured the AMP Tomorrow Makers Fund grant, as well as partnerships with Horizon Power and local governments, to develop the program from basic Excel spreadsheets and Google Docs into a “beautiful, highly intelligent and data-driven ClimateClever Schools app”, accessible to all 9,500 schools across Australia.
Last year, Rauland successfully raised her first round of investment, enabling her to expand her start-up to a team of five. She also won a significant Lotterywest grant to build a Homes version of the app (called BillBuddy) for low income houses and those in financial stress.
In March 2020, Rauland and her team launched their own ClimateClever Homes app, coinciding with the COVID-19 lock down where people are staying inside and using their power and water more than ever. Subscription to the app is currently 50 per cent off (now just $15 a year), and some local governments are offering free subscriptions for their community, including City of Canning, City of Vincent and City of Albany.
What’s next for climate apps and action?
Rauland could be the ‘it’ woman for social start-ups, but she isn’t finished yet.
“With momentum building across Australia for greater action on climate change, and businesses in many cases leading the way, we are now working on our third and final app – ClimateClever Business, launching in late 2020.
“We’re trying to create a network of climate champions in the community who are leading the way using a data-driven approach, and showing what we can achieve together.”
COVID-19 may have turned our attention away from climate change right now, but it has revealed the collective impact we have on the planet, and our ability to respond to global crises. With apps like ClimateClever, we can still take action while hunkered down at home.
“Some people get disheartened because they think, ‘I’m only one person, what difference can I make?’” Rauland says. “But when there are thousands of you, you can have a massive impact.”
Learn more about the ClimateClever app, or look out for Rauland in the upcoming documentary series, Fight for Planet A, presented by Craig Reucassell.
If you have a brilliant idea for a new technology, product or service that could have positive impact on the world, you could be eligible for the 2020 Curtinnovation Awards.
Rauland’s top tips for reducing your carbon footprint:
- Audit your home. “Take stock of the appliances you use in your house and see if any can be switched off or used less.”
- Eat less meat. “Even you don’t become fully vegetarian, just reducing meat intake by a little would have a massive impact.”
- Vote. “Send a clear message to politicians that people want real action on climate change.”
- Get solar panels. “If you can’t afford solar panels, select ‘GreenPower’ from your electricity supplier.” This commits your supplier to purchasing equivalent energy from renewable sources.
- Drive less. “Look at situations where you could actually get somewhere pretty easily by walking, cycling or taking public transport.”