Google eyes more home energy jobs for PowerMeter

The company plans to extend its home electricity monitoring application into managing home energy, including other utilities and potentially electric cars and appliances.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
3 min read

WASHINGTON--Google's PowerMeter is a straightforward application for monitoring home electricity at this point, but the company expects to stretch its features toward managing an array of energy loads in the home, according to an executive.

PowerMeter gets data from smart meters or home electricity monitors and displays that data on a PC or smartphone, which helps people better understand electricity usage and leads to clues on how to cut bills. But "we're just getting going" with PowerMeter, said Dan Reicher, director of climate change initiatives at Google, here at the Kema Utility of the Future conference on Thursday.

Google PowerMeter on smart phone. Google

"We're starting with electricity and we're interested in moving on to natural gas and other utilities [such as water] in the home," Reicher said, speaking to utility industry executives.

Asked afterward about timing, Reicher indicated that there are no immediate plans, but more sophisticated gas and water meters open up the possibility for Web-based monitoring.

Google also sees PowerMeter as a way for people to manage when and how electricity gets used in the home.

Reicher said that the application could be extended to let consumers take advantage of off-peak rates when using electricity-hungry devices such as appliances.

'Demand dispatch' for appliances and vehicles
On Thursday, Reicher said that Google engineers are doing research and development around what he called "demand dispatch," in which software and the Internet can be used to lower electricity use in the home and provide services to the grid now done by power plants.

Specialized power generators push more electricity into the grid to keep a balance of supply and demand or to maintain a steady frequency. The idea of demand dispatch is that small reductions of electricity use across hundreds or thousands of homes can replace supplying more power into the grid.

Last year, Google engineer Alec Brooks first described experiments Google has been doing around demand dispatch using its fleet of plug-in electric vehicles. The software Google is working on is designed to slow the charge rate of electric car batteries as a way to curtail load temporarily and maintain grid frequency, he explained.

Google sees demand dispatch, through which hundreds or thousands of load reductions are coordinated and communicated to grid operators, as something that can work with big electricity users other than electric vehicles.

"It goes way beyond what's going on with a limited number of plug-in vehicles in the near future," Reicher said after his talk. "It's dispatching all sorts of loads in people's homes."

For example, a person could start a dishwasher at 5:30 on a hot afternoon and have an option to run it then or pay one-fifth the current rate to have it run at three in the morning. Reicher said there are a number of "simple loads" in the house that can be dispatched to the grid to cut peak-time electricity usage, something that utilities and policymakers are interested in to avoid having to build more power plants.

PowerMeter could play a role in this demand dispatch scenario, although Google's work in this area is still in the R&D phase, Reicher said. In March, Google partnered with embedded chip developer Microchip, which said it will use the PowerMeter API to make it easier to integrate products such as appliances.

"We're looking at it and we've done some experiments with other kinds of loads [than plug-in electric vehicles]," he said. "Smartphones, smart car, smart house--where a lot of those intersect, there's a lot of opportunities."