In the wake of Google's decision to retire its PowerMeter application, industry insiders showed little surprise. But the episode illustrates how the bar has been raised in the nascent home energy management area.
Google on Friday said that it decided to retire PowerMeter, a Web application that displays how much electricity a home is using. Company executives had hopes of expanding the product into a broad set of features, but customer uptake was not as strong as hoped, Google said in a company blog.
For the many smart-grid companies actively working in home energy management, Google's departure reflects how difficult it is to make money in the field of energy efficiency and control. From a product standpoint, the move is a reminder that simply surfacing energy data is not enough to get consumers en masse to care about energy.
"[PowerMeter] really suffered from a fundamental flaw in its operating assumption that people are interested in monitoring their energy usage at a 15-minute level of granularity, or in real time. They are not. People lead extremely busy lives and studying a line chart showing their hourly energy consumption is simply not going to make anyone's priority list," said Ogi Kavazovic, the vice president of marketing and strategy at Opower, a home energy efficiency company.
Dozens of companies have built applications or gadgets called in-home dashboards that show detailed electricity usage with the idea that more information will provide clues on how to conserve energy. For example, showing people that a pool pump is a big energy consumer could lead them to run it on a schedule rather than all the time.
What's more challenging, though, is motivating consumers to stick with energy-saving efforts, according to energy efficiency professionals. To reach a large number of users, information should be presented in a variety of channels--whether it's a Web portal, handheld device, e-mail, or paper--and focus on consumer behavior as much as the technology, they said.
Opower, now a well-recognized company in the field, made its mark with paper reports that show customers how efficient one home is compared to people in similar homes and communities. It focuses on simple presentation of information online and offline and the social psychology around efficiency. For example, its reports have a smiley face to indicate how well people are doing compared to peers on efficiency. … Read more