By this summer you can expect to find the first energy devices — smart meters, energy management dashboards, connected thermostats — that can link with Microsoft’s (s MSFT) online energy management tool Hohm. Troy Batterberry, Microsoft’s product unit manager of its Energy Management & Home Automation division, told us in an interview on Tuesday that Microsoft has just released the software developer kit for Hohm to third party device makers and he is expecting Hohm to connect with devices– likely smart meters first — this summer. Batterberry also told us Microsoft “might” even one day develop its own Microsoft-branded energy hardware, but for now is focused on connecting with third party gadget makers.
That timeline means that about a year after Microsoft officially launched Hohm to the public, consumers will likely be able to get more granular and real-time data off of in-home devices. Google (s GOOG) took about the same amount of time between when it first launched its online energy tool PowerMeter and it announced its first energy device partners.
Batterberry, who is speaking at our Green:Net conference on April 29 in San Francisco, tells us that connecting with third party device makers is part of “phase 2” for Hohm. Phase 1 was launching the consumer-facing web portal and connecting the site with utility data — so far Hohm has officially announced partnerships with 4 utilities, but Batterberry says more are in the pipeline. Phase 2 is connecting Hohm to devices, including smart plugs, connected thermostats, smart meters and even electric vehicles, and Microsoft already has strategic partnerships with smart meter makers Itron (s ITRI) and Landis + Gyr.
Phase 3 of Hohm is opening up the platform to utilities to enable them to have more ability to control devices and load shift. By then the idea is for Hohm to not only be a consumer portal but also a utility interface, and utilities will then be customers, too, not just partners. In that vein Hohm could act as sort of the distributed operating system for energy. Phase 4 for Hohm is a little more fuzzy, but Batterberry described it as connecting to the digital home, and other services like security monitoring.
How long will all this take? Batterberry says it will take a good decade before the operating system for utilities and energy is sorted out, and Microsoft has the size — and patience — to wait it out. “That’s our competitive advantage,” said Batterberry.
One of the most interesting angles to the future of Hohm, is how Microsoft could be involved with electric vehicle smart charging. Batterberry tells us that he thinks “electric vehicles are the killer app for the smart grid,” and because electric vehicles will consume so much electricity and will need so much intelligence to manage, they will help usher in important intelligence services for the smart grid. The plan is for Hohm to eventually connect with EV, home and utility data and help manage the rules, scheduling and conditions for smart electric vehicle charging. Batterberry says Microsoft is already talking to some big automakers, but declined to name potential partners. (For more on smart EV charging, see California Rules Show Opportunities in EV Charging, on GigaOM Pro, subscription required).
How likely is it that Microsoft will one day deliver a Microsoft-branded energy management gadget? Batterberry only said that the idea might be a possibility in the future. But Microsoft has entered the hardware space in several markets, with mixed success, including the entertainment player market with Zune, and the video game player market with the X-Box. If a company like Microsoft — which has tried-and-true consumer brand recognition and consumer electronic making experience — did release energy gadget hardware, it could provide an important way to perk consumer interest in the space. I made a similar argument for the idea of Apple (s APPL) developing a home energy management gadget.
For more on electric vehicle software charging and home energy management see GigaOM Pro: