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.