Google is looking to get itself into the power business. Not generating it, mind you, but informing people about their usage. The company has unveiled software today that allows users to get real-time information about their power usage, in the hopes that it will save Americans money.
But before you run out to get signed up – Google faces a number of big obstacles here. First you need a smart power meter – of which there are only an estimated 40 million worldwide, and a small fraction of those in New England. Second – Google has yet to sign a partnership with any utility or independent device provider to gather the data. But they are working on it, and are making the software itself open source, which means that programmers can take it and rework it freely to work with other products.
The company is testing out the system with some of their engineers, and the engineers say it’s making a difference. One engineer on the company’s YouTube video release says that utilizing PowerMeter and other energy saving techniques has saved him 64% on his electric bill – and about $3000.
Of course, that might get filed in the same bin as the “hypermilers” who can crank their Civics up to 100 miles per gallon by doing things most folks would never dream of. And just knowing what you’re using is only the tip of the iceberg. The next step would be letting your appliances decide when, for example, it might make the most sense to run the dishwasher, or charge the iPhone most cheaply.
And getting the smartmeters in place is a challenge – and not cheap. Connecticut Light and Power is working on a smart meter project announced in 2007, and the utility reportedly once estimated the price of the meters at $1000 apiece.
(Note: if you don’t want to wait, there are other “smart” options out there, from Smart Power Strips that shuts down power to plugged in but switched off appliances, to appliance-driven solutions like Z-Wave that are already out there. But those mean you, not the utility, absorbs all the hardware cost.)
But still, there are certainly savings to be had just from knowing what your appliances are consuming. The Google blog post notes:
“Studies show that access to home energy information results in savings between 5-15% on monthly electricity bills. It may not sound like much, but 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.”
And that would have consumers and the planet seeing a little more green.