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.