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Opinion: Google PowerMeter is watching you

Posted: 30 Mar 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Google PowerMeter? software? energy consumption? sensor network?

The Google PowerMeter, while an ambitious project and potentially a good thing, is also surrounded with social implications and potential pitfalls.

Google PowerMeter is a free piece of software that allows you to view your home's energy consumption from your personalized iGoogle homepage. And knowing what you consume is the first step to reducing your consumption. This should be good for your pocket and good for the planet as we will all have to work to reduce our carbon footprint.

However, the PowerMeter graphical display is the easy part. It needs to be fed with data. The more energy-consuming devices it can get data from, and the more often it can do it, the more detailed the picture of our energy-consuming lives will be.

And a move by a powerful player like Google is often the best way to kick-start the development of the necessary infrastructure for a major project. In this case it is the fine-grained monitoring of energy consumption in the home, and for that matter in the office and other places of work. Initiatives by big players along the lines of "we're doing this anyway, join in or get out the way" tend to have better chances of success than endless rounds of standards committees where vested interests are putting spanners in the works as fast as others are taking them out.

Microchip Technology Inc. has joined in with Google as a strategic partner and developed a reference implementation of the PowerMeter API. Others involved include: 10 electricity providers in the United States, Canada, India and the United Kingdom and a couple of specialist meter module makers and meter reading service suppliers.

The incentive for Microchip is clear, the chance to be at the head of the pack when it comes to putting a wired or wireless electricity monitor sensor in multiple pieces of domestic equipment. That's a market that is potentially worth billions of shipments per year.

Stored in the cloud
And although the sensor networks will add a little bit of cost to equipment, the volumes are potentially so high it should be possible to quickly drive this down to a few tens of cents per item. And Google is being even more generousin fact positively philanthropic. The Google PowerMeter is free for all. Utilities and device manufacturers pay no fees to work with Google on this project and users likewise do not pay anything, or see adverts, when they use the Google PowerMeter.

Google states: "We're building this tool to provide energy information to consumers and to expose the opportunity that this front represents. As a project of, Google's philanthropic arm, the focus is on helping users understand how they use electricity and help them use less."

So far so good.

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