With its latest offering, Google is continuing on its trailblazing innovations, the latest, announced on its official blog on 10 February, being PowerMeter, a software tool designed to ''show consumers their home energy information almost in real time, right on their computer.''
The gadget, still in the prototype stage, can break down for the homeowner how much energy is being used and what it is being devoted to - for instance, showing a homeowner trying to lower her bill that it is the dryer rather than the television that is costing her the most money. As with other popular Google services, PowerMeter would be totally free, both to private users and commercial users.
The project is also designed as an effort towards greener living, Google's premise being that when homeowners can see exactly how much energy they're using and where it's going, it is far easier to decide where and how to make changes than it is when receiving an abstract dollar amount at the end of each month.
The company cited studies showing that access to home energy information typically saves between 5 per cent and 15 per cent on monthly electricity bills. "It may not sound like much, but if half of America's households cut their energy demand by 10 per cent, it would be the equivalent of taking eight million cars off the road," Google said.
Kristen Olsen Cahill, a product manager for Google, has indicated that if 5.3 million people were to use PowerMeter to each lower their consumption by 10 per cent, the resulting energy would be enough to power an entire city.
PowerMeter is not yet available to the general public, but Google says they're heading that way. Currently they are in the process of running extensive beta tests and, according to the Google blog, they are ''building partnerships with utilities and independent device manufacturers to gradually roll this out in pilot programs.''
The service and others in the future may interface with the chips inside devices such as washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers to give users an ever-changing visual display of how much money it will cost to use the device at that particular time of the day. Electricity charges are tied to demand, something most consumers never pay much attention to when it comes to power usage. By using devices at times when demand is lower, users could potentially save a great deal of money, depending on their utility's policies.
Google currently has about 30 people solely devoted to the PowerMeter project, a number which they hope to expand to as many as 200 in upcoming months. This is not Google's first foray into the world of greener energy. The company has already invested in several fledgling solar, wind and geothermal companies, as well as two "smart grid" companies, Current Group and Silver Spring Networks. Smart grid is a method of moving energy across long distances to the consumer that focuses on high efficiency.
There are still worries about the viability of PowerMeter, however. PowerMeter relies on others to provide the information it needs. Google is hoping that makers of home electronics and appliances will add hardware that will feed the service information wirelessly. It also needs utilities to provide it with grid metrics.
Cahill said, "We can't build this product all by ourselves. We depend on a whole ecosystem of utilities, device makers and policies that would allow consumers to have detailed access to their home energy use and make smarter energy decisions."
PowerMeter is just the latest step towards achieving Google's declared mission to ''organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.'' Whether that step will be successful or not remains to be seen when Google opens PowerMeter to the public.