Google Power Meter Analyzes Home Energy Consumption

Google is trying to impact electrical energy consumption by developing a Web service that will let users track electricity usage in a very detailed way.

Google's PowerMeter software would tell consumers exactly how they are using energy -- down to the appliances themselves. For instance, they would be able to find out that running their clothes dryers at 7 a.m. everyday is one of their greatest costs.

Right now, the software is being tested by Google employees.

"In a world where everyone had a detailed understanding of their home energy use, we could find all sorts of ways to save energy and lower electricity bills," Google engineer Ed Lu wrote on the Google Blog. "If half of America's households cut their energy demand by 10 percent, it would be the equivalent of taking eight million cars off the road."

The New York Times reports that Google has no intention of building the product alone. Instead, they are looking for help from the industry.

"We can't build this product all by ourselves," Kirsten Olsen Cahill, a program manager at Google.org, the company's corporate philanthropy arm, told The Times. "We depend on a whole ecosystem of utilities, device makers and policies that would allow consumers to have detailed access to their home energy use and make smarter energy decisions."

Google's vision is very far-reaching. The company believes it will be able to provide some pretty cool information, if manufacturers, utilities, and consumers get on board.

For instance, the meter could "signal" to the dishwasher that it's cheaper for the dishwasher to run in the morning rather than at night. Or, it could tell the customer that he or she could save money by running the appliance at a different time.

Several utility companies, such as PG&E and Pepco, have already deployed smart meters that provide some information about usage. There are about 40 million smart meters in use, according to Lu's blog entry.

Last summer, Pepco began offering residents in the District of Columbia a smart metering program.

In California, PG&E began rolling out smart meters in 2006. The devices allow customers to monitor their gas usage in a day-by-day breakdown, and their electric usage in an hour-by-hour breakdown, spokesperson Paul Moreno told The Industry Standard.

About 44,000 PG&E customers have smart electric meters today, Moreno said. During a pilot program last summer, those with smart meters were offered lower rates when they decreased energy usage during peak hours, when wholesale electricity prices are higher.

About two-thirds of smart meter customers who participated in the summer program reported a savings of US$20 to $100 per month.

But "deploying smart meters alone isn't enough," Lu blogged.

PG&E says it realizes the limitations of smart meters, and is building its own software for customers that will break down usage by appliance, Moreno said.

"These tools will provide consumers with more information about their own home energy use and will help them better manage their energy bills," Moreno explained, adding that PG&E's tools would be available in a few more years.

Google hopes to introduce PowerMeter publicly within the next few months, according to The Times.

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