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Google killed its energy data software PowerMeter in the Summer of 2011. But has it been keeping the dream of managing consumer’s energy data alive all this time? According to a report in the newly launched media site The Information, Google has been quietly trialling a smart thermostat project called EnergySense that enables consumers to monitor and manage energy use, though it’s unclear if the pilot is just experimental, or meant to be a commercial product one day.
My guess would be the former — Google runs tons of early stage experimental projects. And even PowerMeter was never really meant to be a commercial venture; it was formed out of Google’s philanthropic arm Google.org, and its managers said often that it wasn’t meant to make money. Other commercial companies out there are already making oft-used smart thermostat hardware and software — like Nest and Opower — and running good businesses off of those fully baked products.
But Google has no doubt remained interested in energy data in different — potentially more indirect — ways since PowerMeter was shut down. It’s invested over a billion dollars into clean power sources, it has its Google Energy subsidiary, and its venture arm has made an investment into Nest, which makes a smart thermostat and data analytics product. Google.org has also hired energy experts like former ARPA-E Director Arun Majumdar within the last year. Google consumes a large amount of energy at its data centers, so has been investigating ways to both cut down and clean up its energy use.
The Information says EnergySense is “an experiment around how Google can make the energy grid more efficient and potentially build services on top of the power-grid data.” There’s a massive amount of consumer energy data that’s been unleashed from smart meters, connected thermostats and lights, and the more general home-centric Internet of Things, in recent years, so it’s not surprising that Google would still want to play around with that type of data.
PowerMeter originally didn’t take off because of a variety of reasons, including that the market was still early for consumer-focused energy monitoring devices, the interface for just viewing energy data wasn’t all that compelling, the app was opt-in instead of opt-out the way Opower’s utility services are, and the app was somewhat threatening to some utilities who didn’t want to work with Google. In the years since, it’s become more clear that smart thermostats — and not energy dashboards or energy apps — are a better way to connect with consumers.
Following the shutdown of PowerMeter, startup Bidgely has said it was able to obtain a significant number of those users and built energy data algorithms off of those usage patterns.
A Google spokesperson wouldn’t comment on The Information report.