Google dribbles out PowerMeter smart-grid service

Company partners with smart-meter manufacturer and eight utilities to offer its Web-based application for monitoring home energy use.

Updated at 9:25 a.m. PT with comments from San Diego Gas & Electric.

Google has signed on smart-meter manufacturer Itron and eight utilities to offer Google's PowerMeter Web service for monitoring home energy use.

PowerMeter reads a home's electricity meter and gives the consumer a detailed readout of usage. The idea is that a better understanding of electricity usage--presented via daily trends and data on individual appliances--will help people figure out how to cut consumption.

PowerMeter creates a readout of a home's electricity use over the course of a day. Google

Google's home energy-monitoring software relies on meters, or add-on devices, that can communicate usage information back to utilties. In a blog post on Tuesday, Google engineer Ed Lu said that the company is seeking to find more smart-meter vendors and utilities to offer PowerMeter.

"For now, Google PowerMeter is only available to a limited group of customers, but we plan to expand our roll out later this year," Lu wrote.

In a document prepared for utilities, Google says that PowerMeter is a free, opt-in service.

Google's push into home energy monitoring is likely to be well received by consumers who want details on how they are consuming electricity. It is estimated that simply surfacing information on trends and individual appliances will allow the typical consumer to lower electricity use by 5 to 15 percent.

Within the smart-grid industry, Google is poised to make an impact as well. A number of start-ups offer home energy monitoring, through Web sites or a small device in the home.

Large IT and telecommunications providers are developing smart-grid technology as well. Cisco Systems said Monday that it intends to offer home energy monitoring , potentially as an add-on to its home network hardware. Telecommunications companies including Verizon Communications are exploring adding energy monitoring to their broadband services.

San Diego Gas & Electric, which has been working with Google for a year on PowerMeter, plans to have over 200,000 Itron smart meters installed this year and have its entire territory of 1.4 million customers covered by the end of 2011.

The utility will offer the same information on usage, in addition to billing records, to its customers through its own Web site. It decided to go with PowerMeter because it ties into Google's popular Web services, which allows SDG&E to provide links to its rebate and energy-efficiency programs, said Hal Snynder, the vice president of customer solutions.

"It's about getting products and programs in customers' hands in the most efficient way we possibly can. Right now, it's a challenge to get that information to them. That's where Google can be a great conduit," he said.

Snyder said that tracking energy usage is the first step in a longer smart-grid plan the utility is pursuing. Automation tools will let consumers program home appliances to take advantage of the lowest electricity rates, he said.

 

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