Will Google's PowerMeter Be Home Automation's Savior?

Google’s PowerMeter, which will enable consumers to see how much energy they’re using, is one of the best home automation ideas to come along in a long time. Although still being put through its paces by Google employees, PowerMeter may allow users to cut their power usage by up to 15 percent, a green benefit that transcends the Prius crowd. Indeed, once people find out how much money their '80s-era Frigidaire is costing them, they’ll see the cost benefits of upgrading to a new, more energy-efficient model. Talk about a stimulus plan.

But the real benefactor here may be the home automation vendors who’ve toiled for decades in the consumer electronics shadows. Home-control gadgetry that turns lights on and off, and operates Web-enabled security cameras and thermostats, has been around for two decades or more. Do-it-yourself nerds are familiar with Insteon, X10, and Z-Wave products. (Aside: X10 shamelessly markets its video wares as spy cams for peepers.) And the ultrawealthy who can drop six figures on remote-controlled home theaters and motorized venetian blinds often hire high-end automation installers such as Crestron.

But with Google bringing its star power to the sector, there’s a good chance that home automation may finally go mainstream. For years, the problem with home control hardware was that regular folks just didn’t see the benefits. Lights that automatically turn on and off? A microwave that starts five minutes before I get home? Yawn. The benefits didn’t outweigh the costs. And just as important was the fact that home control gadgets were often flaky and didn’t work as advertised. I certainly found this to be true when testing X10 hardware.

Google’s PowerMeter, on the other hand, has a very compelling proposition: It’ll save you money -- potentially a lot of money. True, the verdict is still out on how well it’ll work, but Google certainly has the resources to make PowerMeter a success. If the software works as advertised, we’ll likely see a sales surge of smart utility meters and thermostats, two energy-saving products that exist today.

Who knows, maybe even The Clapper will make a comeback.

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