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Google Jumps Into Organizing Smart Meter Energy Data

Just as Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt hinted over the past few months, Google is moving from managing the world’s information to managing your personal energy data. On Monday night Google tells us it is developing an online tool called “PowerMeter” that will allow users to monitor their home energy consumption. For now Google is testing the web-based software with Google employees, but the search engine giant is looking to partner with utilities and smart energy device makers and will eventually roll out the tool to consumers.


It’s not such a big stretch — Google has clearly been eager to move into helping manage energy consumption — announcing a partnership with GE for smart grid technology last year — and will be able to use its long history of developing consumer facing services to streamline the interface. So how does it work? Google’s PowerMeter will take the energy consumption information provided by a smart electricity meter and display the energy info on the users iGoogle home page. Yep, only residents with a smart meter will be able to get the most out of the tool — so good thing President Obama is calling for another 40 million smart meters installed using funds from the stimulus program.

We’ve actually been hearing a lot about Google’s energy management plans over the past few months, largely from startups that are building competitive products. We’ve heard that Google’s tool is based on a more open source model, which could really shake up energy software developers that are building more proprietary tools. Incumbent smart meter companies are already concerned over an emphasis on Internet Protocol-based smart meter standards in the stimulus package. Google’s tool is free, and its foray into smart meter software will likely just ratchet that up a notch.

But with Google’s history of organizing the world’s information, how could it resist the most important data of our time — energy data, which through smart organization could be used to help fight climate change? And as opposed to its $45 million investments in other energy-related startups and its plug-in vehicle project, energy data management could actually be one of the only places where Google plans to generate revenues. Schmidt said during a speech last year that there is an internal debate going on at the company as to how much of its energy initiatives will turn into real revenues, but that, “[T]o the degree that we can be in the information businesses or communications businesses about energy and its impact on the world, we are clearly going to be there.”

Schmidt went on to say: “It seems obvious to me that if you give [energy] information to end users they behave smartly . . . So we are working on that.” As Google said in its web preview of PowerMeter:

Google believes consumers have a right to detailed information about their home energy use. After all, real-time energy information helps people make smarter choices so they can save energy and money. Studies show that people save 5-15% of their energy costs when they have access to information about their energy consumption.

Ultimately PowerMeter could be the most important contribution Google makes to fighting climate change.

40 Responses to “Google Jumps Into Organizing Smart Meter Energy Data”

  1. why does residential appliance use even need to be broadcast over the internet???? what if i life in the country and don’t want all this junk? its all great for some city dwelling hipster liberals who don’t question government or corporate control, but how about the rest of the US? will grandma or small towners really embrace this unnecessary technology (everyone IS assuming this is necessary across the board it seems)? how much energy is being burned by that??? (datacenters, telecom, wifi, appliance chips….)

  2. stella watkins

    Good GRIEF!

    The two entities who DO NOT want the public to know the whole truth about their utility usage are the Utility companies and GE!!!

    So why would Google join up with the two scuzziest, scammers on the planet to help the public do a better job of saving the planets resources?

    Does not make sense.


  3. Who was it

    I agree that “Knowledge is power” and I want more info about my own consumption of energy in real time, to make better decisions. If this tool helps me get there, GREAT– it’s part of a transition we will need to make to a smart grid in the future, where more demand can shift to economic times of day so supplies are used most effectively across the economy. I see this as ecologically good. And when I bring my own renewable energy sources on line myself at home in the future it will empower me even more to consume (and conserve) judiciously. Google is in a good place to help me integrate my own information effectively for my own use, and that I applaud. Any other privacy issues can be worked out as needed over time, I do trust at this early stage.

    The alternative of inaction, is no longer an option given the urgency of imminent anthropogenic climate change.

  4. Nitin Gupta

    I cannot foresee end users or consumers tracking their energy consumption over the long term. Once the initial “excitement” about getting the new reports and tracking usage is over, most will just go back to “life as usual”.

    The consumers should set their goals about pricing or total energy usage and an “appliance priority order”. Once that is done, let the utilities decide which devices to shut off or run during non peak hours to match the consumer criteria.

    I will draw a parallel with the approach you take with a financial planner: once you discuss and freeze your financial goals with your planner, the onus is on the planner to manage your investments in the best possible way.

  5. @Jim – speaking as a relatively young person I’m more concerned about the bills I’m starting to have to pay than ‘climate change’ per se. In the UK I just got a £500 bill for Q4 ’08 for gas and elec. in a 1 bedroom flat – that’s A LOT of money! But then I use A LOT of energy.

    I think people trust Google with their information for many reasons, not least because their track record is good. They’re already a utility company in many ways, their massive network of datacentres makes them my ‘always-on’ information provider of choice, but one which I’m not forced to pay a subscription to. Instead it is businesses that pay for the privilege of access (via AdWords) to my consumer-driven, bottom-up market for information.

    If it’s Google that offers me access to tools that help me reduce my energy bill through ambient consumption of usage data, then I’ll let them anonymise information about my energy use and sell it on. Until the energy equivalent of W3C appears and creates standard protocols for the transfer of energy related information, Google might just have to do!

  6. @Jim is right — Feedback is useful only if responding to the feedback results in gains for the person receiving the feedback.

    To wit, a “smart grid” experiment in Washington state showed that:
    — If you:
    * give people real-time information about their usage
    * give people real-time notifications about peak usage
    * and offer real-time pricing that provides discounts for non-peak usage
    — Then:
    * people will voluntarily reduce their usage during peak times

    Study participants ended up saving 10% on their bills over the previous year, and peak-time usage went down 15%.

    But probably only because consumers were able to put money in their own pockets by dialing down during peak hours.

    For more on the study:

  7. Its hard to understand why people are so concerned about climate change. I remember when it used to be called “the four seasons”.
    Anyone who believes man can control or affect the weather across the entire planet is incredibly naive.


    Do you really want to provide access to your life trends to a company who’s motto is don’t be evil?
    Why “don’t be evil”? well because they are precisely that or have enough of a potential to be that. Not only do they have access to practically all your personal info, search queries, and possibly email, now they want to know how you actually live on a day-by-day basis? Dont fall for it. These guys are as evil as evil gets. If you dont believe it – ASK THEM! I am sure they will have a hard time admitting otherwise.

  9. @Jim, your skepticism is healthy, but perhaps there are other models where visibility into personal resource consumption can help motivate behavior?

    I suspect that in many cases, people don’t really know where their energy use is coming from. For example, paying attention to not only peaks, but the baseline might show someone that they’re using tons of energy in the middle of the night, which after further investigation, might help them realize that something like a PlayStation 3 consumes 100s of dollars a year in electricity in standby mode.

    We’ve sketched out some ideas about how this might work (even better) on the Cooper Journal at:

  10. The only way to make this work is for the utilities to provide real time pricing to reflect the instantaneous generation available. The smart appliances can then decide if the price is acceptable for their own use.

    The alternative is some kind of ‘big brother’ approach wherein the utilities decide which of your appliances to turn on and off. (This is also what the utilities want because it’s easier for them.)

    Also, this is not (really) a software problem. The software to do this is simple and ~free, or should be. It is, rather, a sensor problem. Something has to be sensing all the power usage of your various gadgets. Not terribly difficult, but something to be done.

    I’m not a huge fan of google providing software of little utility at the expense of their selling your lifestyle choices to eager info buyers. Google’s getting a little ‘Big Brother’-ish itself. This s/w is providing enough value to warrant the intrusion.

  11. Coupling Google’s PowerMeter software with smart meter technology will be the biggest stumbling block globally, and I suspect in the US, in spite of any smart metering incentives in Obama’s economic stimulus package.

    Would it be possible to have this software intelligently fill-in-the-gaps, so to speak, based on much simpler energy data from a basic energy monitor with a cheap, clip-on sensor?

    I’m thinking perhaps that I tell PowerMeter what appliances I have, and based on anonymous historic data there’s an ‘appliance suggest’ function that will make a guess at what causes spikes in my energy usage – think somewhere between Google suggest and Wesabe’s semi-smart tagging of financial data.