Blog Post

Google Slowly Adding Users for Energy Tool PowerMeter

It’s still early days for Google’s web-based energy tool PowerMeter. A company spokesperson told us today that Google has “a few thousand users at this point” for PowerMeter. That’s pretty small, but it’s enough to enable Google to start using the collective energy consumption data to make recommendations for how its users can reduce their energy use (see their blog post this week).

It’s been about a year since Google announced the tool, but the search engine giant only started working with its first utility partners later on in 2009. Its first gadget partners didn’t come until October 2009 and those firms are mostly startups with small distribution capacities.

Still I would have expected a bigger userbase by now. PowerMeter has close to a dozen utility partners it’s working with that have millions of customers collectively. The high-profile media attention alone I would have thought would have converted users to a free service.

I would speculate that a barrier for more rapid adoption has been utility customer awareness of the tool. Even if Google has these utility partnerships in place it’s probably up to the utility to make consumers aware of PowerMeter’s availability. But think about it from the utility perspective — many want to own the customer relationship as much as possible, so they don’t have much of an incentive to provide much marketing for the tool.

It can also cost utilities money (in terms of employee/contractor time) to develop feeds of customer usage info for PowerMeter and also to communicate to customers about the program. Pike research predicted it cost “tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars and many months,” to implement the tool. Pike suggests to utilities: “make sure they have the means to measure the impact of the chosen program and to gather information that can be applied in other consumer-focused programs in which they may choose to invest.”

Small numbers isn’t necessarily a big problem for Google’s PowerMeter, as the tool was created as a project and never was meant to have a business model. Some of Google’s other products like Google Voice have only just broke a million users. But I think it’s telling that running the service off the back of utilities seems to be particularly difficult.

13 Responses to “Google Slowly Adding Users for Energy Tool PowerMeter”

  1. Interesting article.

    I would have thought the biggest reason why utilities don’t want to promote Google PowerMeter too much is that its a tool that will help people use less energy, which will mean less revenue for them. Its a good tool for utilities to perhaps attract fresh customers, but probably not one they want to market heavily to their existing ones.

    Its interesting that they have so few customers trying it out at the moment. I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard for google to increase their numbers if they wanted to. I guess its just not a priority at this moment.

    We reviewed it here, if anyone is interested:

  2. I completely agree with your last point, and wonder if at some point we may have to give up on relying on utilities to implement anything remotely “smart.” A better option, it seems, would be to focus more on consumer home energy monitors like the TED 5000 (one of Google’s earliest device partners). They may be pricey for the average (read: non-“green”) consumer, but I think we’ll see them become much more affordable in the next year or so.

    A promising device I’ve just discovered is WattVision – you clip it to your meter and it automatically uploads data to a sleek web interface. A guy I work with recently got a promo model and has a review here:

    Compared to dinosaur utilities, I think clever start-ups like this are much more likely to be the ones driving real innovation.

  3. Katie–

    You’re absolutely right that one of the key barriers to growth of PowerMeter use is the utility channel–as you’ve pointed out often, they’re just slow and cumbersome. And customer communications and outreach, well….isn’t their strong suit.

    The other half of the story, though, is that there’s currently only one approved consumer device that’s integrated–the TED 5000–and it’s been sold out since October. The good news is that the supply issues have been largely resolved and we’ll be shipping backorders and have plenty of inventory shortly.

    More info on availability here:

    In addition, there are other consumer devices pending Google approval that will further expand the user base. Stay tuned for more on this.