Utilities + IT: DIY Energy Audits and a Step Closer to a Smart Grid

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Google released its PowerMeter application to track home energy use earlier this year.

Google released its PowerMeter application to track home energy use earlier this year.

“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” That is the quote from Lord Kelvin that Google presents as the idea behind their new PowerMeter application.  Google is one of a handful of IT companies to roll out online home-energy management tools in recent months. Cisco, Verizon, and most recently Microsoft are also moving into the home energy management space.  Here is a taste of what is out there:

  • Google – PowerMeter shows consumers their electricity consumption in a secure Google gadget.  The application is FREE, but right now it is only available to a limited number of customers whose utility companies are partnered with Google.   You can see the full list of companies here. No, Duke Energy is not on the list, but Google has plans to expand its partnerships by the end of the year.  Keep your fingers crossed.
  • Microsoft –  Hohm is basically a do-it-yourself online energy audit tool designed to help customers conserve electricity and natural gas.  Microsoft designed Hohm as a cloud-computing application so that users can tap into back-end data analytics for more tailored advice.  The application is built upon models licensed from the Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. There is a FREE beta version of Hohm available to all US residents.  As it is now, you have to manually enter all of your utility data unless you are lucky enough to live in an area where Microsoft is partnered with your utility company.  Again, Duke Energy is not a partner, although at least that is not a deal breaker like it is with Google’s service.
  • Cisco – released EnergyWise software earlier this year for managing energy use in office buildings. Cisco also announced in May that it plans to offer home energy monitoring, most likely as an add-on to it’s home network hardware such as Linksys routers.
  • Verizon ‘ is exploring ways to use its Fios broadband service to give consumers ways to remotely control their thermostat and view their energy usage.  You can read more about it here on the GreenTech website.  This functionality will be built in to the broadband router Fios customers will receive.  There is no official timeline on when the energy management capabilities will be available, but insiders think it could be as soon as the end of the year.

These are just the major players. Energy is exciting right now, and several start-ups are moving into the space as well.

Each of these new platforms has its pros and cons.  One thing is for sure, though, there are already countless websites that offer tips on how to save energy, but these IT tools offer useful and actionable information.  Furthermore, tracking energy consumption is a necessary first step towards a functional smart grid and joining utilities with IT will hopefully jumpstart that process.

Teddy Salgado is a master's student at Duke's Fuqua School of Business pursuing his MBA with concentrations in Social Entrepreneurship and Decision Sciences. His professional interests include business strategy and development, particularly with environmentally and socially sustainable...
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