Navigant Research Blog

Saying Goodbye to Google PowerMeter

Bob Gohn — June 29, 2011

So this week Google abandoned the much ballyhooed PowerMeter project, a web energy management tool that allowed consumers to see their electricity usage in granular (15 minute) intervals, if that data were available. This follows a similar decision by Microsoft to wind down its efforts on the Microsoft Hohm project as well. Both efforts drew significant attention not least because it potentially threatened parts of the business models of myriad home energy management companies and even utilities by making this information available for “free.”

In Google’s announcement on their corporate blog they stated, “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. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished with PowerMeter and look forward to what will develop next in this space.” One wonders if there was a big “mission accomplished” banner in the background.

Google’s reason for discontinuing the service is no surprise and while some competitors might breathe easier, they are all caught in the same dynamic: “Our efforts have not scaled as quickly as we would like.” Last year we projected that 2011 would not be the “year of the Home Area Network (HAN)” and we recently cut our forecast for Home Energy Management (HEM) displays. Yet there are signs that the “pilot-itis” that has stymied utility rollouts may have an end in sight:

  • Energate, a provider of HEM devices, software, and services, just announced results from some pilots demonstrating very strong energy savings results and enthusiastic consumer response. The pilot at Oklahoma Gas and Electric is being closely watched, as it is especially focused on consumer acceptance rather than technology trials.
  • EcoFactor, another HEM supplier, announced expansion of a residential Demand Response trial that also demonstrated strong results and consumer satisfaction. NV Energy is already working to deploy 20,000 Control 4 energy management and automation systems as well – the largest such deployment in the United States to date – so these solutions are experiencing at least some popularity in the desert.
  • iControl recently announced a $50 million investment round including the likes of Cisco, Comcast Ventures, Intel Capital, Rogers Communications, and Tyco International. iControl represents efforts of various service providers to include energy management in overall home automation and awareness technologies. They are behind the new systems being offered by ADT Security that saw significant TV commercial airtime (I saw these during the recent Stanley Cup finals – Go Bruins!).

Ultimately, Google may have simply lacked the patience (and business model) to stay in the market. Or, some form of PowerMeter may show up as an application within Google’s “Android@Home” initiative, yet another effort at a mass-market home automation networking and application framework (which is the last thing this market needs, but more on that at another time).

It is still far from obvious how (or if) the HEMs and HAN markets will ultimately evolve. Most of the issues I wrote about a year ago remain. But when we said 2011 would not be the “year of the HAN” we also said consumers would start to actually like the smart grid. Indeed this is happening, and not a moment too soon.

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