Microsoft Reveals Its Energy Management Tool: Hohm

PrintWhile Google (s GOOG) has been openly discussing its yet-to-be-released online energy management software PowerMeter since back in February, Microsoft (s MSFT) has spent the last two years quietly toiling away on its own energy management tool, dubbed Hohm, which will be available this week. At the Edison Electric Institute conference in San Francisco on Wednesday morning Microsoft Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie announced the new service, which will allow consumers to monitor and manage their own energy consumption online.

Microsoft Hohm dashboardsmall

Not only does Hohm look more slick and comprehensive than what we’ve seen from PowerMeter, it’s also going to be available within the week to consumers and utilities (still waiting on PowerMeter.) The trick to Microsoft’s fast rollout is that the company is focusing on offering non-smart meter energy data first and will incorporate smart meter data when it becomes available. Hohm could give PowerMeter a real run for its money.

Here’s how Hohm’s basic level works: Consumers can log into the Hohm site, and start off by entering just their Windows Live ID and their zip code. Using this simple location information Hohm uses algorithms licensed from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Department of Energy to start predicting home energy consumption. From there users can enter as much info as they want (answering up to 180 questions) about home size, water heater brand, etc., to make the energy prediction of their home as accurate as possible.

Another layer of detail will be provided if Microsoft has partnered with a utility in your area — Hohm is launching with Xcel Energy, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Seattle City Light, and Puget Sound Energy, and Microsoft says it has “half a dozen” utilities in the queue. If you live within the footprint of one of these utilities and choose to link your utility account with Hohm, you can connect the systems and look back at all your historical monthly energy data. This is pretty cool, as I’ve seen few applications do something that simple yet effective (takes a big company to get utility trust). Hohm also will link up with smart meters when its partner utilities have installed them, as well as smart energy devices like dashboards, thermostats and plugs.

Troy Batterberry, Microsoft’s product unit manager of its Energy Management & Home Automation division, told us this week that ultimately — closer to 2011 — Hohm could be used to manage electric vehicle charging and demand-side management, which sees gear like thermostats or smart plugs turned down during peak electricity events. Batterberry tells us Microsoft is already talking with big auto makers about the electric vehicle-charging plan. It’s not as weird as it sounds; Microsoft has actually developed a variety of software for the automotive industry.

Unlike Google, which blatantly says its PowerMeter has no business model (it’s housed in the company’s philanthropy division), Microsoft’s Hohm is a product, Batterberry explained to us. One way or another, eventually Microsoft wants to use Hohm to either directly deliver sales or lead to relationships that will deliver sales. While the initial phase of Hohm is free to consumers and utilities, down the road Microsoft could charge for services like utility demand management or electric vehicle charging. Batterberry tells us Hohm is a long-term investment to move more aggressively into the energy industry, but that “we’ll keep our minds open to what the business model will look like.”

Beyond the differences in monetization between Google and Microsoft’s energy tools, the launch of the products aligns with the companies’ different corporate strategies. Google often likes to be early and launch products before they’re fully baked (in this case, not launched to the public yet) while Microsoft likes to cross all its t’s and do a safer, more put-together, launch. At this point, however, Hohm remains “in beta” and Batterberry says Microsoft will be listening to customer feedback and tweaking the service before it moves out of that stage.