Tech coalition to Obama: Set home energy info free

A Google-led group of companies says that making electricity data accessible to consumers will "unleash tech innovation," save people money, and help preserve the environment.

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

A group of consumer technology companies, including Google, General Electric, and Intel, on Monday urged President Obama to create policies that give consumers better access to home energy information.

In a letter, 47 companies and nongovernmental organizations said that making detailed data on electricity and fuel use available to consumers is a key step toward meeting national energy and environmental goals.

Google has developed an application called PowerMeter that can take home electricity information and display it on a Web browser or smart phone. Google

Giving people "actionable information" through computers, smart phones, or in-home energy displayscould "unleash the forces of innovation in home and business," according to the letter. If all U.S. households cut energy consumption by 15 percent over the next 10 years, the greenhouse gas reductions would be equivalent of taking 35 million cars off the road and save each customer $360 per year, or $46 billion.

Consumers should be able to see how electricity is consumed within the home, which will help them find ways to save energy. People should also have access to pricing information and find out the sources of their electricity supply, the letter said.

"Technologies exist today that can be deployed to achieve this goal. To ensure success, we need clear rules on consumer access to information; incentives to promote the deployment of technologies, including (utility) cost recovery; programs that educate and engage both providers and energy users; and encouragement of diverse technologies. Robust privacy and security protection for consumers and their information is essential," according to the letter.

The statement was made public in advance of an event to be hosted by Google on Tuesday at its Washington, D.C., office to discuss innovation in home energy use. Representatives from Google, Intel, smart-grid start-up Tendril, Whirlpool, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Climate Group are scheduled to speak.

Rather than propose one sweeping measure, the group that said information access should be a priority in a number of rules related to electricity distribution. The group also recommended an initiative among federal agencies, states, and industry to devise a strategy around consumers and energy information.

There are a growing number of tools to help consumers get detailed information on electricity use, many of which are being made available through utility smart-grid programs. The products surface electricity usage information that can, for example, show people electronics that are consuming power even when they aren't being used. Early tests have shown that real-time and daily electricity data can help consumers shave bills anywhere from a few percent to 10 percent or more in some cases.

With a two-way thermostat or home-automation network, a person could control heating and cooling and "smart appliances" remotely using a smart phone. They could also program applicances to take advantage of off-peak electricity rates. Many of these home-energy management systems rely on smart meters, though they are not always necessary.

Home energy displays show you the juice (photos)

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Energy management tools can be an important component to home weatherization services, where energy auditors and contractors retrofit buildings to be more efficient, the letter noted.

Although some of these energy management systems can be sophisticated, there remain questions as to how much consumers will engage in tracking energy use over time, particularly if the process is complicated.

Regulations are also a barrier for many utility-led smart-grid programs, which sometimes subsidize installation of these tools because most utilities don't have a financial incentive to reduce the electricity use of their consumers.

Many consumer electronics companies are seeking to expand into home energy management, either by offering dedicated devices as Intel has proposed. Telecom providers or security service companies are also looking at adding energy monitoring to their existing services.

Other signers of the letter include the Consumer Electronics Assocation, the Green Electronics Council, AT&T, Nokia, Comcast, Best Buy, Dow, Verizon, green-tech venture capital companies, and environmental advocacy groups.