Google is dipping its toes in the very buzz-friendly waters of "smart grid" technology. Google.org, the philanthropic wing of the Internet giant, has developed something called "PowerMeter," which (eventually) is meant to help individuals understand their own power use, with the goal of cutting it back.
"Smart grid" technology also refers to appliances that communicate with the energy grid and use less power during peak hours, which also saves consumers money.
Here's Google's quick description of PowerMeter:
Google PowerMeter, now in prototype, will receive information from utility smart meters and energy management devices and provide anyone who signs up access to her home electricity consumption right on her iGoogle homepage.
The IHT goes into a bit more detail on PowerMeter:
Google is one of a number of companies devising ways to control the demand for electric power as an alternative to building more power plants. The company has developed a free Web service called PowerMeter that consumers can use to track energy use in their house or business as it is consumed.
Google is counting on others to build devices to feed data into PowerMeter technology. While it hopes to begin introducing the service in the next few months, it has not yet lined up hardware manufacturers.
"We can't build this product all by ourselves," said Kirsten Olsen Cahill, a program manager at Google.org, the company's corporate philanthropy arm. "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."
This video from the PowerMeter site introduces the service. Sort of.
NOT A NEW IDEA
There have been plenty of attempts at what PowerMeter will accomplish -- here's someone who build a Twittering PowerMeter-ish thing, here's something called kWickview which says it does something similar to PowerMeter, and there's also the slower version -- a Kill-A-Watt, a spreadsheet and diligence.
But Google's entry into the field is encouraging because of their cartoonishly huge resources. It's not unreasonable to think that they could come up with tools for good equal to what Wile E. Coyote's ACME company came up with for evil.
PC World thinks that PowerMeter could actually stimulate one part of the economy -- the at-once futuristic and somehow boring field of home automation:
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.
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.