Google PowerMeter Moving Closer to Smart Appliances

Will Google’s tools one day help you monitor and manage the energy consumption of appliances like your washer and dryer? The company said yesterday afternoon that it’s partnered with chip maker Microchip to work with developers in order to create embedded devices that are compatible with Google’s energy tool PowerMeter. Microchip says the relationship means that it will offer Google’s recently opened API (application programming interface) to its developer community.

The partnership is all part of Google’s strategy to embrace third-party hardware developers for PowerMeter. But on another level the deal with Microchip could represent a step closer to using PowerMeter to monitor and manage smart appliances — washers, dryers, microwaves and other devices embedded with communications technology that can connect with utilities and third parties.

Microchip is a leader in making cheap microcontrollers for “the Internet of things” — basically low-cost chips that are embedded in non-traditional computing objects like home appliances, motor vehicles, lighting and the smart grid. Other companies that sell into this space are chip licensing company ARM and NXP. Both have told us that microcontrollers for smart appliances that will talk to the smart grid are a growing business for them.

Microchip offers tools to developers to create applications for digital appliances that work with its microcontrollers, so it wouldn’t be too much of a leap to add in PowerMeter’s API as another developer option. Google, in its announcement yesterday, didn’t mention smart appliances and placed an emphasis on “energy monitoring devices — from utilities with smart meters, back haul networks and enterprise scale meter data management systems, to small embedded consumer devices.”

Google has already announced partnerships with small energy consumer device makers like The Energy Detective and AlertMe. Microsoft with its web energy tool Hohm is also working on the same type of device partnerships and could one day even create its own Hohm energy management device (come see my onstage interview with Google PowerMeter leader Ed Lu and Microsoft Hohm leader Troy Batterberry at Green:Net in San Francisco next month).

While Google seems to be more focused on partnering with smaller consumer electronics developers for PowerMeter right now, connecting directly to smart appliances eventually wouldn’t be such an unusual move. Just by connecting to a smart meter, Google PowerMeter can estimate the energy use of certain appliances by looking at total home energy use (see image). And last year Google’s PowerMeter team said that it while it wasn’t interested in adding any more appliance-specific data into PowerMeter’s API, it was going to leave the applications and appliance work to third parties. Hello, Microchip?

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Image courtesy of Microchip

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