The White House recently announced new initiatives aimed at making the electric grid more energy efficient, reliable, less polluting, and more consumer friendly. The term “smart grid” is used in the White House press release, mainly in reference to tools and services designed to help consumers monitor their power usage in real time, and manage it economically.
Indeed, there’s plenty of evidence to show that currently available monitoring and power-management technology can save consumers money on their energy bills. The trick, in many cases, is getting people to actually use the dashboards, sensors, transmitters, and monitoring services. As one industry analyst observed, apathy can be a bigger obstacle than ignorance when it comes to cutting energy consumption. That issue may have come into play with PowerMeter, Google’s energy management tool, which, the company announced last month, will be retired from service on September 16 because it didn’t catch on as hoped.
“Momentum is building toward making energy information more readily accessible, and it’s exciting to see others drive innovation and pursue opportunities in this important new market,” Google said in a blog post that also mentions the White House initiatives. “We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished with PowerMeter and look forward to what will develop next in this space.”
An evolving energy-management landscape
PowerMeter users can download data they have stored in their account any time before the September 16 cutoff. A competing online energy-management tool, Microsoft Hohm, is still up and running — but not for long. As Microsoft announced on June 30, it will follow Google’s lead and soon shut down Hohm, which is due to retire on May 31, 2012. Hohm’s effectiveness, like that of PowerMeter, has hinged on how much information users input about their home and its energy use. And, as did PowerMeter, Hohm works best when it incorporates customer-usage data fed directly from partner utilities, which, in Microsoft’s case, are currently limited to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Seattle City Light, and Xcel Energy. As technology site Ars Technica noted, “the timing of the announcement suggests that Microsoft only developed Hohm for strategic reasons.”
Another system that offers usage tracking through partnerships with utilities, OPOWER, still seems to be attracting users and adding employees. Key to the apparent success of this service is that it includes general usage information about other homeowners in the community, thereby adding peer pressure to the incentives to save energy.
Anything to help overcome that apathy.