‘Smarter than smart’ energy ‘fingerprinting’

To improve energy efficiency in homes, commercial buildings and industrial facilities, CSIRO and a West Australian company are working on a ‘cognitive’ metering system that identifies the electrical ‘fingerprint’ of individual appliances.

In this age of digital immersion, an increasing number of smart technologies are entering the marketplace to help consumers, and indeed building owners, to make savings and improve lifestyle and environmental outcomes.

In the energy domain, smart (or intelligent) systems that help reduce energy consumption are a target of R&D activity and they are a focus of innovation in CSIRO’s Energy research.

Although various smart meters are already available for monitoring overall energy use, these meters are typically unable to break information down into enough detail to show consumers where the big savings can be made.

That’s where CSIRO and Fremantle-based start-up Ecocentric come into the picture.

We are working together to further develop a ‘cognitive’ metering system that recognises the electrical ‘fingerprint’ of individual appliances to improve energy efficiency in homes, commercial buildings and industrial facilities, according to  CSIRO Energy Director Karl Rodrigues.

The system based around Ecocentric’s Numen technology will break data down further than smart metering systems to show where and when energy is being used within a given building.

“It’s a smarter than smart system that will enable us see how much energy individual electrical devices are consuming without the burden of individual sub metering hardware,” says Mr Rodrigues.

“Algorithms designed by some of our top scientists recognise the unique energy ‘fingerprint’ generated by electrical devices and show exactly how much energy they’re consuming,” he says.

“This system enables virtual sub-metering that bypasses the need for costly hardware for individual metering of appliances.”

Numen makes use of cloud-based technology which monitors energy use in real time. Analysis of this real time data can help you to identify faults earlier, and prevent energy from being wasted.

“Data collected by our cognitive meters will allow better decision-making about energy conservation and lead to large reductions in cost and carbon emissions for homes and businesses.”

While Numen is commercial-ready now, the partnership with CSIRO will further develop the algorithms for homes and other buildings.

Ecocentric CEO Tim Bray says, “We are is excited by Numen’s commercial prospects, as well as its potential to lower energy use in the built environment.”

“Numen will be a part of Australia’s contribution to a more energy efficient future,” he says.

Under an agreement, Ecocentric will obtain a licence from CSIRO to the cognitive metering technology and work with CSIRO for six years to further refine the system.

“Research like this is helping drive the next wave of productivity and efficiency in energy consumption,” says Dr Rodrigues.

“This is exactly the sort of system that could be developed, tested and refined in a science-backed sustainable urban development like CSIRO Ginninderra.”

Click here for more information on CSIRO energy research.

CSIRO’s Sam West and Ecocentric’s Paul Lyons examine the Numen energy efficiency device.


A ‘cognitive’ metering system can provide the whole picture or profile of a building’s energy use. Source: Ecocentric.

Harnessing the tools for ‘true’ sustainability – 4D-GIS

Advanced tools and expertise in understanding and analysing the past, present and future material and energy requirements of our cities provide us with new opportunities to plan and create truly sustainable cities and urban systems.

Sustainable use of natural resources and low carbon development have become guiding concepts in the quest for sustainable development.

The new Sustainable Development Goals, spearheaded by the United Nations, embrace the need to conserve natural resources, reduce and recycle waste and avoid emissions – and they identify cities as a main domain of action.

Creating and operating world cities has required large quantities of accessible mineral resources, consumed massive tracts of native forests, overworked increasing areas of land for food production and stretched our water resources. In turn, this has produced copious amounts of chemical, material and greenhouse gas wastes that all affect our environment and indeed the future prospects of a range of living systems and life forms.

“Since the industrial revolution, our cities, and consumption by their people, have become ever-increasing drivers of the environmental challenges we now face,” according to Dr Heinz Schandl, a Senior Principal Scientist with CSIRO Land and Water. “Without changing current patterns, cities are unsustainable!

“However, cities are also at the heart of future solutions and the benefits that will flow from finding them. Solutions will include new, better and more efficient ways to build and run cities, to better use, recycle and re-use their component materials and resources, and to eliminate or minimise unusable wastes.”

“The Sustainable Development Goals will only be achieved if we can globally reduce the amount of material, energy, waste and greenhouse gas emissions required for a good quality of life,” according to Dr Schandl, who is a member of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) International Resource Panel and lead author of the United Nations-commissioned Global Material Flows and Resource Productivity.

“The way we design and construct cities is crucial and yet there is limited understanding of the metabolic consequences of urban development.”

Urban and industrial metabolism have become key terms in environmental accounting. They refer to the scientific metaphor of industrial ecology. In biology, metabolism refers to the processes and chemical reactions that enable living organisms to grow, produce energy, reproduce, eliminate waste and sustain life.

Much like living systems or organisms, cities use and consume resources, digest and transport chemicals, manage a wide range of processes, produce and use energy, grow, evolve and create or eliminate wastes.

Differently from biological systems, cities can “intervene” in processes of metabolism and plan and organise their resource and waste flows, according to Dr Schandl. “Improvements in the design and location of buildings, in transport systems and other infrastructure can have a lasting legacy for the resource efficiency and climate and environmental impacts of a city.”

Such planning requires new information that goes beyond economic data and looks at resource flows in a comprehensive and geographically explicit way.

“We need to understand how cities have evolved, how they currently perform and how they will require natural resources and produce waste and emissions in the future.

“New approaches to understanding and planning our cities can simultaneously help us realise social, economic and environmental objectives and Australia is well placed to be at the leading edge of this.”

A 4D model to guide planning

Cities like Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne have already shown a desire to push the frontiers of this type of planning and the necessary expertise already exists in the research and industrial communities, according to Dr Schandl.

“CSIRO and partners have the expertise to build four-dimensional models of cities that bring together all the relevant data to understand the past and current make-up of the city, its resource and energy use, emissions and waste streams and potential future scenarios of urban development based on resource efficiency and waste and emission minimisation.”

Four-dimensional geographic information system (4D-GIS) models can provide a wealth of information to guide urban planning in specific locations and also at the city scale. They help in identifying the material and energy requirements of urban renewal strategies, and allow assessment of the metabolic consequences of an urban plan. Such models also highlight emerging economic opportunities based on better knowledge of waste streams and their material composition. Traditional 3D modelling encompasses spatial parameters (latitude, longitude and altitude); time is the fourth dimension in a 4D model, considering past data and allowing future projections.

4D-GIS has been applied in case studies in Wakayama (Japan), Padua (Italy) the greater Manchester (Salford) area (UK) and in determining waste flows and material use opportunities in Nagoya (Japan) and a district of Shenyang city (China).

For past and existing urban infrastructure, a 4D-GIS model can include information on:

The approach estimates future demolition waste flows including material characteristics and volumes.

“Such a model enables environmental best practice to be applied for current and emerging urban infrastructure,” Dr Schandl says.

“For example, at a greenfield site like Ginninderra we could use 4D-GIS to map and project sustainable resource flows, recycling, and environmental management benefits as the development unfolds. The model could guide economic opportunities and provide a framework for positive and complementary relationships with neighbouring communities, the city and its environment.”

Canberra is a uniquely planned city with potential to push urban design and planning frontiers.


GIS models show growth and compositional changes in the Italian city of Padua spanning 105 years – 1902. Source: Tanikawa Laboratory, Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Nagoya University, Japan.


Padua in 1981. Source: Tanikawa Laboratory, Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Nagoya University, Japan.


Padua in 2007. Source: Tanikawa Laboratory, Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Nagoya University, Japan.


Project update – February

As we welcome in 2017, some of the Ginninderra project team have been enjoying a holiday break while others are working hard to define how CSIRO science can be applied to transform the site.

CSIRO has a wealth of science knowledge, data, technology and innovation that it can contribute to the ‘whole-of-system’ solutions that are needed. CSIRO and Citizen-led science is already underway at Ginninderra and community inspired innovation could also help drive a wide range of outcomes including the prospect of a greater range of affordable housing options.

Over the past two months we have also been taking the required steps to finalise the Request for Proposal to identify a development partner. We are excited by the prospect of new and emerging opportunities to work with innovative players in the property and construction industry to deliver the best outcome for the community.

In early February, CSIRO’s first Urban Living Lab designed to innovate, develop and road-test the cities of the future was launched at the Sydney Science Park site.

A joint initiative of CSIRO and Celestino, the Urban Living Lab (and others like it in a range of urban and city environments) provide a space in which to nurture innovation and collaboration, to apply science and test new ideas and technologies for their potential to deliver more liveable, sustainable and resilient cities and urban areas. The Ginninderra initiative is anticipated to be a key Urban Living Lab where new technologies and innovations can be developed and applied at significant scale.

Through the Australia-Korea Foundation project agreement established in late 2016, a follow-up workshop to develop joint research activities has been planned for Goyang, South Korea, in February or March 2017. This builds on the Memorandum of Understanding between CSIRO Land and Water and the Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT) to establish a collaboration project.

We look forward to bringing you more news about the Ginninderra Project throughout 2017, and as always, if you have a question about the project please feel free to email us at or visit our Facebook page.

Lift off for CSIRO’s first Urban Living Lab

CSIRO’s first Urban Living Lab designed to innovate, develop and roadtest the cities of the future was launched at the Sydney Science Park site today.

A joint initiative of CSIRO and Celestino, the Urban Living Lab provides a space in which to nurture innovation and collaboration, to apply science and test new ideas and technologies for their potential to deliver more liveable, sustainable and resilient cities and urban areas.

With more than 75 per cent of Australians living in cities, and Australia’s population projected to double to 46 million by 2075, the need for smarter, better designed and constructed cities and urban spaces will only grow.

“There are major issues facing cities in the 21st century,” says Acting Director of CSIRO Land and Water, Paul Bertsch.

“Issues such as population pressure, climate change and resource scarcity are big problems that researchers, industry and government need to work together to address.” Dr Bertsch says. “The Urban Living Lab provides the perfect environment for the collaboration and innovation that are necessary to build vibrant and sustainable cities.”

Urban Living Labs are place where researchers, industry, community and government can work together to address the environmental, social, economic and technological challenges facing the urban sector.

“Happily, we can announce that CSIRO’s first Urban Living Lab will operate at the Sydney Science Park,” Dr Bertsch says.

Sydney Science Park is a new development set over 280 hectares in Sydney’s west. It is envisaged as a fully-integrated community that encourages innovators from a wide range of urban research backgrounds to come together to create, test and refine innovative products and services in a real-life setting with the support of CSIRO and other research partners.

Celestino CEO John Vassallo says he is excited to be partnering with CSIRO on this important initiative.

“We could see people creating new ways to harness solar energy in the workplace and developing novel ideas to store heat and keep homes cool. New sustainable transport solutions will also be encouraged as well as inventions that conserve water and energy and drive down utility bills. The possibilities are endless.”

“Once developed, all of these technologies will be tested on the homes, businesses, shops, roads and parks of Sydney Science Park.

“Just like you test new medical technologies in a lab, you need to test new urban-living technologies in a real urban environment. Sydney Science Park is the perfect testing ground for these inventions of tomorrow.”

The Urban Living Lab will link inventors to mentors as well as to scientific expertise and venture capital.

“We don’t just want inventions, we want new prototypes commercialised and rolled out to the market.”

Complementary research at Ginninderra

CSIRO Urban Living Labs are proposed to be established in a number of different urban, inner city and greenfields settings in a number of Australian cities and the CSIRO Ginninderra property is anticipated to be one of those locations.

From the reuse of treated wastewater for urban green spaces, to automated driver-less garbage collection, Urban Living Labs will carry out complementary research with the resources to test a wide range of cutting-edge innovations. These ideas can then be developed, commercialised and implemented, all under the supervision and support of CSIRO and partners.

Research already under consideration includes:
• Examining the impact of increased urban greening on local temperatures and ecology, changes in energy and water demand and consumption, and the influence on community wellbeing and health
• Developing smart water systems that can efficiently provide different classes of water for different uses on demand
• Determining the influence of digital disruptions and information technology advances on urban structure, industry and community connections.

With this new generation of laboratory and a new spirit of innovation and collaboration, the Urban Living Lab will play a major role in shaping the cities of the future.

An Urban Living Lab is being established at the Sydney Science Park, a new development over 280 hectares in Sydney’s west. Artist impression: ©Celestino


Artist impression of Sydney Science Park, a greenfield site in Western Sydney. Artist impression: ©Celestino


Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science,Craig Laundy MP (right) launched the Urban Living Lab and took a virtual tour.