What Google's exit means for energy management in the cloud

The results of some fairly high profile smart energy management projects (apparently successful) are due this week, but apparently Google didn't have the patience to wait. The giant Internet services company has officially "retired" the PowerMeter service due to lack of consumer adoption.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

The results of some fairly high profile smart energy management projects (apparently successful) are due this week, but apparently Google didn't have the patience to wait. The giant Internet services company has officially "retired" the PowerMeter service due to lack of consumer adoption.

That move -- coupled with Microsoft's decision earlier this year to shift gears on its strategy for Hohm -- gets me wondering about all the other companies testing cloud-based energy management technologies -- including the likes of Hewlett-Packard and IBM. My gut is that those development efforts will continue. That's because those applications will be offered via the utility companies themselves, with which consumers already have relationships.

Here's Google's explanation for its action with respect to PowerMeter, which is effective Sept. 16, 2011:

"We first launched Google PowerMeter as a Google.org project to raise awareness about the importance of giving people access to their energy information. Since our launch, there’s been more attention brought to the issue of giving consumers access to their energy data and we’re excited that PowerMeter has helped demonstrate the importance of access to energy information. However, our efforts have not scaled as quickly as we would have liked, so we have decided to retire PowerMeter."

You'll notice that Google refers people who WERE using the PowerMeter service to some other companies, including utilities, that will continue to offer cloud-based energy management services.

Which got me thinking about some of the other recent announcements surrounding cloud-based energy management services. Here are a couple of research and development experiments that have my particular attention:

PeerEnergyCloud: This is a project out of Germany that is being spearheaded by Seeburger AG, a software integration company with experience in creating B2B exchanges. The project's aim is to help create a marketplace for collecting and distribution energy data so that power can be "traded" as necessary. The project is getting off the ground as one of the winners of a "Trusted Cloud" competition sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. I think that one of the reasons it is worth watching is that the utility companies can get a clearer picture of specific consumption patterns for private households.

UK Smart Energy Cloud: Another high-profile collaboration worth watching is the UK Smart Energy Cloud, a combined development effort from IBM and Cable & Wireless. This cloud service is meant to support the United Kingdom's Smart Meter Implementation Program, which is supposed to roll out 50 million smart meters across the country. The cloud service is meant to collect data on behalf of the energy retailers, and the idea is to help energy companies avoid having to invest in their own back-end infrastructure to collect and analyze smart meter information. Notes Matt Key, managing director of enterprise at C&W Worldwide:

"We believe a collaboration of this kind is the most natural approach to achieving an end-to-end solution for a complete smart metering roll-out and making smart grid a reality. The challenge is for smart meters to reach the entire UK population, and this will require a combination of enabling solutions, such as GPRS, radio and power-line carrier to make sure it's cost-effective. However, it is the network connecting it all and intelligent data management, that is central to the smart agenda's success."

HP Labs Home Energy Manager: As you might expect, HP is heavily into the notion that it can provide technologies for collecting and assessing residential energy consumption behavior. Sensors are a big part of that mission, which is important, because many smart meter projects have so far failed to find that magic catalyst to get most people beyond early adopters to contribute their data. To that end, its Labs group is working on something called the Home Energy Manager. In a white paper describing their proof-of-concept work, HP researchers write:

"The creation of a home energy intelligence services (EIS) for remote monitoring and assessment of residential energy consumption patterns, overlaid by a suite of energy-related advisory services, is a significant business opportunity. At the heart of an EIS is an energy-oriented cloud service, enabling customers who deploy an energy information aggregator within their homes to have open access to, and control over, their customized residential energy profile from any web-enabled device. Additionally, the service's collection of energy information from, potentially, millions of households creates an opportunity for 'Energy Intelligence' brokers to provider third parties (device manufacturers, utilities and governments) with a platform to analyze and deliver targeted serves based on energy-oriented analytics, performed against a massive energy intelligence repository."

My gut is that Google's exit from this market is by no means the death knell. Indeed, many utility companies will probably opt for these services rather than  try to build out the infrastructure for energy intelligence themselves. Stay tuned this week for some news from one of the upstart players in this space, EcoFactor, which will be providing some updated data from its pilot project work.

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