Google Searches For Key To Energy Savings  

Posted by Big Gav

National Geographic has an article on Google's power meter and initiatives to make smart meter data visible to end users -
Google Searches For Key To Energy Savings

Deep in the dark of the Minnesota night, some appliance was kicking on to rob Ed Kohler of hard-earned cash. He'd look later and see nighttime energy spikes reported by PowerMeter, Google software that monitors home electrical use.

"All the lights were out, but something's cycling," said the 36-year-old Kohler, marketing manager at a Minneapolis web-development firm. "So I think about it and, aha, figure out it's the refrigerator."

A 19-year-old refrigerator, a real energy hog by today's standards. It was easy to calculate that a new, energy-efficient model would pay for itself.

Kohler's revelation is typical of "Aha!" moments that consumers enjoy when they can monitor their energy use, say Google executives. PowerMeter is an early hint at how new technology can give home dwellers more control over their energy use. It was developed by the search giant's charitable arm,, which has made energy one of its prime areas of focus. And PowerMeter is free, easy to use and available to anyone worldwide to install.

If only it were that simple.

As software, PowerMeter can't provide the homeowner with energy use data unless it is linked to the home's electrical power system—and that requires a piece of hardware. But it will take the utilities that deliver electricity to homes years--maybe a decade--to blanket the country with new "smart" meters that can gather and transmit useful data. Then, the power companies must decide how to transmit that data to customers--perhaps through software like Google's that is being tested by several utilities in the United States and Europe, or perhaps through software and hardware being developed by other companies, like Microsoft, Intel, and a number of start-ups.

Utilities cautious on smart meters

From the standpoint of the utilities, the meters raise a myriad of technical questions, not the least of which is just making sure the darn things are accurate. So they are moving forward cautiously. Too cautiously, in the view of Google and 45 companies and organizations that sent a letter to President Obama this week urging that the administration set a goal of giving every U.S. household and business access to "timely, useful and actionable" information on their energy use.

"By giving people the ability to monitor and manage their energy consumption, for instance, via their computers, phones or other devices, we can unleash the forces of innovation in homes and businesses," the letter said.

The smart meter advocates say if U.S. households saved 15 percent on their energy use by 2020, the greenhouse gas savings would be equivalent to taking 35 million cars off the road and would save consumers $46 billion on their energy bills.


"A smart grid pilot project in Fayetteville, N.C., has resulted in an initial 20 percent decline in average electricity consumption..."

That's first month performance. I didn't find any updates.

Something that we really know about changing human behavior is that you can often do the job by simply providing "immediate" feedback. Monthly utility bills aren't very effective.

What these devices need to do is to get quickly to the wifi/whatever stage where you can monitor your usage on line. Send it to your computer/cell phone.

If all we have to do to cut usage 10% to 20% is to install meters (and make some help/education available) we shouldn't hesitate.

In the US we are getting about 45% of our electricity from coal. Cut usage by 20% and you could shut half the coal plants.

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