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Google axes PowerMeter--a bad sign for others?

Google's decision to unplug home electricity-monitoring application PowerMeter is a sign of how difficult it has been for home energy apps to catch on.

Google is pulling the plug on its PowerMeter electricity-monitoring tool due to poor uptake, a sign of how tough it is to make money in home energy software.

In a company blog today, Google said that PowerMeter and Google Health Web applications were trailblazers as products, but just didn't catch on as hoped.

"We're pleased that PowerMeter has helped demonstrate the importance of this access and created something of a model. However, our efforts have not scaled as quickly as we would like, so we are retiring the service," wrote Bill Weihl, Google Green Energy czar. The service will be suspended September 16, giving people time to export their data.

Google launched PowerMeter two years ago through its philanthropic arm as a Web application that can collect information from smart meters to show consumers detailed information on electricity use. With more detail, people can take steps to cut down on power.

As recently as April of this year, Weihl said in an interview that Google planned to keep developing and offering the product even though home electricity is a "complicated ecosystem." Google's former director of climate change initiatives, Dan Reicher, last year said that Google planned to add features, such as water and natural gas monitoring, as well as allowing consumers to tie into peak-power-shaving programs.

Google offered PowerMeter through utility partnerships and had made deals with electricity monitor device makers so that they could view real-time usage data from PowerMeter on a PC or smartphone.

But cracking beyond the group of energy-conscious consumers has proved elusive--and Google is not alone in that regard.

Microsoft earlier this year told CNET that it plans to refocus its Hohm residential energy management application onto electric-vehicle charging through a partnership with Ford. Hohm was similar to PowerMeter but provided specific recommendations on how to make a home more energy efficient.

At the same time, there are dozens of other companies, including many start-ups, hoping to build energy management systems to improve home energy control and efficiency.

Whether PowerMeter's demise will have a chilling effect remains to be seen, but even before Google's decision to unplug PowerMeter, smart-grid companies and home energy-monitoring companies have recognized that they need to develop simpler, low-cost products to penetrate beyond a small niche of consumers.

Wattvision, a start-up with a Web energy-monitoring application, said that Google's departure didn't affect its plans, but was thankful that Google set the stage for others.

"The attention that the Google brand brought to our space was quite a boon for us, as well. Without Google, we'll continue to work hard, make our customers happy, and generate our own excitement," the company wrote in its blog.