Home > Google, obama, power, smart grid > Empowering power consumers: Google beta tests software to give consumers real-time info

Empowering power consumers: Google beta tests software to give consumers real-time info

“If you cannot measure it;

You cannot improve it.”

— Lord Kelvin

Consistent with its mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” Google, whose climate change-related efforts I’ve blogged about previously, is trying to help consumers to measure and track their real-time electric usage, thereby allowing them to make better choices as to when and how they use electricity.

Google is now beta testing new “PowerMeter” software – a secure iGoogle Gadget that it plans to give away free (though no doubt there will be a buck or two for Google in advertising and data services later) – that will provide near real-time power usage information to consumers who have advanced “Smart Meters”.  This information will make it easy for consumers to figure out when and how they are using electricity, to manage such use by device and to better match such use to the pricing programs of their utilities.  So far, Google testers have found that the software allows them to relatively easily cut use (by an average of 15%), and to save on their electricity bills by an even greater percentage.

The availability of such software will motivate consumers everywhere to push their utilizing to establish Smart Meter programs, for access to the information generated by such meters, and for an array of services and pricing programs.  There should be a boom smart meters, as the Obama Administration’s proposed stimulus package targets supporting their installation in over 40 million U.S. homes
over the next three years.

While Smart Meter / Smart Grid programs have been growing, there is still considerable market fragmentation and rights of consumers have not been clearly spelled out. According to Google, while some state regulators have ordered utilities to deploy smart
meters, their focus has been on their use by utilities and grid
managers, and not on consumer rights to the information they generate.  As a result, Google is engaged in policy advocacy as well; says Google:

“deploying smart meters alone isn’t enough. This needs to be coupled
with a strategy to provide customers with easy access to energy
information. That’s why we believe that open protocols and standards
should serve as the cornerstone of smart grid projects, to spur
innovation, drive competition, and bring more information to consumers
as the smart grid evolves. We believe that detailed data on your
personal energy use belongs to you, and should be available in an open
standard, non-proprietary format. You should control who gets to see
your data, and you should be free to choose from a wide range of
services to help you understand it and benefit from it. For more
details on our policy suggestions, check out the comments we filed yesterday with the California Public Utility Commission.”

While it’s not clear yet how significant a role Google will end up playing in this market, Google is to be commended, as both its PowerMeter software and its advocay efforts will help pave the way to greater consumer choice and freer markets.

What we need in addition is for the Obama Administration and Congress to give a kick in the pants to electric power market reform and deregulation along the lines of proposals that I have noted elsewhere.  Consumers need not only better information, but greater competition in who is providing them electricity and in the sources that are used to generate it.

Christian Science Monitor summary here:

New York Times


The Google Blog

Google’s PowerMeter website


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