Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why was the plug pulled on Google PowerMeter?


Why was the plug pulled on Google PowerMeter? 

Google’s philanthropic branch launched Google PowerMeter in February 2009. Its goal was to put the power of seeing electricity usage into the hands of the consumer. The idea was born of a study that showed that those that had access to daily energy data reduced usage by 10 percent. A powerful concept that information delivered could have such a great effect.

I was lucky enough to live in SDG&E territory and smart meters have been installed. I received a postcard from SDG&E inviting me and 100,000 of my fellow San Diegans to join Google PowerMeter. I also receive emails from the CCSE (http://energycenter.org) so I was in the loop. I installed the software and awaited the launch.

The data was excellent. It would show always on usage so you could see your baseline make changes and see immediate effect which in turn is immediate satisfaction in my estimation. You could look at hourly charts, daily charts, weekly charts, yearly charts. The ability to set goals was also part of the system and you could see when you met these goals with a star designation on that day of your data. I had it on my Google home page and it was up every time I booted up my system as I have Google as my homepage.

All this data for the price of nothing, zilch, nada, neinte, ingting.  The price was certainly right. The product performed well. It was available to a large city whose utility promoted the service. With all this going for it why did it fail?

 On September 16th 2011 Google pulled the plug on PowerMeter.
A criticism I had right away was that it did not include gas to which is also billed from the same utility with smart meters also installed.  How hard would it be to track both and make the tool twice as powerful?

With PowerMeter shuttering its door there are many theories.
Not available on a Universal scale.
The 24 hour lag time and no access to real time data.
The Utilities didn’t want it to succeed and buried it into obscurity
Pressure from Wall Street to stop “wasting money” on unpopular projects
Lack of access by third party developers 
Lack of commitment by Google

While I can agree with the first point that it was not available on a large scale out the gate I am not sure that is reason enough for its failure. The immediate data is a good point but does that cause you not to even use it? That the utilities buried it into obscurity sound a bit conspiracy theory like and  does not make sense. SDG&E has a watered down version available on the web immediately after Google shuttering its door. It is called Energy Charts and is not as sexy as PowerMeter but is quite good and the data is there. If they are attempting to hide it then why spend money to keep a version of it.  I seriously doubt that Wall Street dictates anything to Google. When Wall Street has that power I would suggest you dump your shares if you are holding it. Third party developers felt left out but there is a privacy issue as well. If Google couldn’t give it away where was the market for the third party developers? Google has increased its investment in green technology to over 700 million so far in 2011. That shows a pretty strong commitment to me.

So why did it fail then?

I think the answer is quite simple really. Energy Costs are not painful enough for most to show interest. It is a strange commodity in the sense that every customer is more willing to accept the bill as the part of the cost of living. And we all have to live. While families will often cut back to save for whatever reason the power bill is often overlooked and or the last place they look to save. It seems only the folks who are already interested in saving electricity costs are the ones that signed up to use PowerMeter. According to Wiki, about six percent of SDG&E customers signed up for PowerMeter or a total of 11,000 homes.
I would contend that with a two year run and a six percent penetration the market is clearly apathetic. That apathy, more than anything else is the reason I believe is responsible for the failure of PowerMeter.

Is it all doom and gloom for the energy efficiency market?

Hardly, I will take the half full glass please.  94 percent of the market is out there waiting for the news. It is easy to save on power consumption with the right information. The costs are low and the paybacks fast. Real energy savings work every day and night of the week rain or shine. The house as a system approach leads to a healthier more energy efficient environment where we spend a great deal of time, our home. The market is there undeveloped

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