Google energizes efforts to cut consumer electric bills

Google pushes smart grid and its SmartMeter to help trim home energy costs

Google Inc. is trying to give people a handle on how much energy they consume at home to help them change their habits and ease the pressure that electricity demands put on the planet.

The company today unveiled the Google PowerMeter, a tool designed to show consumers their home energy information in nearly real time, right on their computer. Ed Lu, a member of Google's engineering team, said in a blog post that Google employees are testing the technology now as the company works with manufacturers and utility companies to create pilot programs for consumers.

The PowerMeter aims to provide people with detailed information about the electricity they use at home -- how much they use at different times of the year, how much their appliances use and what's wasting the most.

Lu said that the company is also advocating and investing in a digital "smart grid," which includes open protocols and standards and is geared to deliver usage information to consumers and give them control over who can see their data. Google also is pushing to create a services organization specializing in analyzing people's electricity usage and suggesting changes to lessen their drain on the electric grid, he added.

"In a world where everyone had a detailed understanding of their home energy use, we could find all sorts of ways to save energy and lower electricity bills," Lu wrote. "In fact, studies show that access to home energy information results in savings between 5% and 15% on monthly electricity bills. It may not sound like much, but if half of America's households cut their energy demand by 10%, it would be the equivalent of taking 8 million cars off the road."

"If Google plays their cards correctly, this service can give them a big win with consumers," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. "People are interested in controlling their energy consumption like never before, and they have more options for reducing their energy usage, like higher-efficiency appliances, heating, and lighting. The missing link is that few consumers know how much power they use on a particular day at a given time. This Google service fills in that hole and gives consumers the data they need to evaluate their usage, make changes, and track their improvement."

The energy conservation moves are the latest in a series of announcements by Google this month.

At the beginning of the month, the company launched an updated version of Gmail, its hosted e-mail service, that lets users access their accounts without an Internet connection. The updated service will allow users to read, write and archive e-mail messages while, for example, flying in an airplane.

And then a few days later, Google unveiled an upgrade to Google Maps that allows people to track the exact location of friends or family through their mobile devices. The new feature, Google Latitude, not only shows the location of friends, but it can also be used to contact them via SMS, Google Talk or Gmail.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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