Little juice for power meters

A trial by Microsoft, TCI, and PG&E to monitor electrical usage via a TV set-top box is in trouble and could be scrapped this year.

Jeff Pelline Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jeff Pelline is editor of CNET News.com. Jeff promises to buy a Toyota Prius once hybrid cars are allowed in the carpool lane with solo drivers.
Jeff Pelline
2 min read
A ballyhooed trial by Microsoft (MSFT), Tele-Communications Incorporated (TCOMA), and Pacific Gas & Electric (PCG) to monitor electrical usage via a TV set-top box has run into trouble and may be canceled by year's end, sources told CNET.

The first-of-its-kind trial is part of a strategy to offer cable TV, Net access, and other features on high-speed communications lines. With the system, a couch potato would be able to switch to an "energy channel" from cable TV and monitor the home's energy usage and how much it costs. The "smart box" runs on software developed by Microsoft. The project been hampered, however, by sluggish consumer demand and technological challenges, according to sources familiar with the project.

The venture was intended to help Microsoft and TCI explore new revenue streams by transferring their technology to the energy utility business. For PG&E, the technology might reduce costs by allowing for real-time monitoring of customers' energy use, as well as outage detection, electronic billing, and bill payment.

A PG&E spokesman confirmed today that the project is going slower than expected and that it is under review. But he declined to comment on whether the companies will pull the plug on the venture.

Only 50 people are participating in the trial in Walnut Creek, California, although it was supposed to have as many as 1,000 participants by now. Residents of counties in Silicon Valley were also supposed to be included in the trial, but that hasn't happened yet either.

When PG&E, the nation's largest investor-owned utility, started the project more than a year ago, it was hailed as one of the first electric utilities to jump on the "information superhighway." Since then, a similar trial has been launched by Duke Power in North Carolina.

If the trial still works out, PG&E, TCI, and Microsoft plan to market the services on a national basis.