Feedback Wanted: Microsoft's Energy Tool Hohm Goes Live

HohmenergyusageAre you ready to give Microsoft’s energy management tool Hohm a spin? On Monday morning at 6 a.m. (pacific time) Microsoft is opening up the doors on Hohm to the general public, about two weeks after the software giant revealed the idea behind its energy management tool. Hohm, which will enable home owners to track their energy consumption and potentially modify their energy behavior in a variety of ways, is in beta mode, and Microsoft told us it will be tweaking the software — making it smarter — according to user feedback. So here’s your first chance to give it a whirl and tell ’em what you really think.

We checked out the tool this weekend pre-launch, and here are my first impressions. Hohm can use as little information as a ZIP code to start predicting your energy consumption, and then the more questions (up to 180) you answer about your residence (like the numbers of doors and windows and type of water heating technology), the more accurate the tool can be. Down the road, the goal is to have the tool link with your utility, integrating your real historical energy data, and then ultimately work with smart meters and other smart devices to provide closer to real-time energy data consumption data.

Using just my ZIP code, those prediction algorithms, licensed from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Department of Energy, are not so bad — Hohm predicted around $750 in annual heating costs per year, and $2,000 in total energy costs, which sounds a little high, but close to the annual bill of my house. And when I answered more questions (about 30 percent of my profile), the energy consumption dropped a bit, i.e., got smarter.

But looking at just the predicted annual energy consumption data doesn’t really offer me all that much. It’s just a set of numbers that doesn’t feel all that actionable. So before the tool will be able to automatically hook up with my utility and integrate my monthly historical energy data, it feels like so many of the carbon calculators and energy tools online already. Microsoft knows those limitations and is looking to sign up more utilities (PG&E, that means you!) But until Hohm finds more utility partners beyond Xcel Energy, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Seattle City Light, and Puget Sound Energy, most energy users are stuck with the basic Hohm version.

In addition, the tool is really the best-suited for conscientious home owners. Not so much for, say, an apartment renter. Many of Hohm’s questions are really difficult to know if you’re renting an apartment, like when was the heating system installed; is your water heater insulated; or what is the capacity of your water heater? I only had 30 percent of my profile filled in because, quite frankly, I could only answer a certain number of the questions.

But even though I missed out on the utility experience, there were some features of the basic Hohm that I did appreciate. I really liked the three-tiered setup of the recommendations section, which broke down projects that can reduce energy consumption in terms of: “DIY costs,” “annual savings” and “annual carbon benefit.” The recommendations section also describes how to do things like lower the temperature setting on your water heater. These tools were more actionable aspects of Hohm, and I’ll have to concentrate on them until my utility comes through.

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