Microsoft kills Hohm energy app

Blaming slow market adoption, Microsoft pulls the plug on its home energy management tool only a week after Google abandons its PowerMeter electricity monitoring app.

Microsoft is pulling the plug on its Hohm consumer energy management application because of poor uptake.

The move to discontinue Hohm, announced on the product's community blog today, comes less than a week after Google said it is axing PowerMeter , a similar energy monitoring product.

Microsoft said that Hohm received positive feedback but "due to the slow overall market adoption of the service," the company has decided to focus its environmental efforts elsewhere. In April, CNET reported that Microsoft was phasing out Hohm and would focus its development on electric vehicle charging through a partnership with Ford. The product will stop being available by the end of May next year and Microsoft said it does not intend to offer an alternative service.

Sayonara, Hohm. Screen capture by Martin LaMonica/CNET

The decision to halt development is not a big surprise to people who closely follow home energy management products, as Microsoft had struggled to sign on a large number of utilities as partners. The effort, though, is certainly a disappointment to its current users and the development team behind it.

Hohm is a free Web application that gives people a tool for understanding energy use and finding ways to improve efficiency. To use it, people filled out a lengthy questionnaire to build a profile of their home and the application, using Department of Energy research lab data, would provide suggestions to improve efficiency.

When it first launched Hohm two years ago , Microsoft said it intended to sign on utilities to feed utility bill information into Hohm. But otherwise, people needed to manually input data into the application.

Like Google, Microsoft sought to sign on home energy monitor makers to increase its usefulness. It developed a kit with the makers of the PowerCost Monitor to use a home's broadband connection and Wi-Fi to send meter data directly to Hohm so consumers can see real-time and historical electricity data.

PowerMeter, which will be discontinued by September, is different from Hohm in that it displays electricity usage in real time. Hohm, by contrast, is designed to generate suggestions for both electricity and heating efficiency based on a home's size and type.

Business model?
In the analysis that followed Google's decision to pull the plug on PowerMeter last week, some people in the smart-grid and home energy management business said that Google's product had flaws or that it suffered from a lack of infrastructure. To display real-time and historical data, Web applications need a smart meter or some other communications gateway.

Dozens of companies have developed home smart-grid products with the idea that more detailed and fresh information will help consumers find ways to save energy by turning things off or save money by taking advantage of off-peak rates.

Others, including executives at efficiency company OPower, noted that outside of a niche of very energy-conscious people, consumers haven't shown a willingness to actively manage data or view data in real time.

But utilities have been reluctant to provide real-time data, which ultimately was the biggest problem for Google PowerMeter, said Peter Troast, the co-founder of EnergyCircle, which sells home efficiency gear, including energy monitors. "It seems that [utilities are] simply not yet equipped to deal with the demands of more well-informed customers," he wrote.

Both Microsoft and Google made the mistake of trying to circumvent utilities rather than build a platform for connecting consumers and utilities, said Adrian Tuck, the CEO of smart-grid company Tendril. "Too many vendors have jumped into the market with lightweight reporting applications hoping they can solve the platform requirements after the fact," Tuck said.

In its Hohm blog, Microsoft said that it will focus its environmental sustainability efforts in other areas where technology can be beneficial. But other companies with consumer smart-grid products could see this as a sign of the difficulty in getting customers, particularly in utility-led programs.

Pike Research recently cut its forecast for home energy management users, noting that there have been some positive recent smart-grid programs but many have remained in the pilot stage.

Hohm, which never left beta, ultimately suffered from not having a revenue model to support its continued development. Microsoft had hoped to work with utilities to get data or using the application as a way for consumers to participate in demand-response programs to curtail peak power. But like Power Meter, Hohm remained a well intentioned experiment which had trouble getting beyond a small set of followers.

Updated at 3:35 p.m. PT with comment from Tendril.

 

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