Google PowerMeter: Too ambitious?

Google PowerMeter is a new project intended to help average consumers understand electrical usage in their home. I asked Google about the planned roll-out and they said there is just a handful (about 50) of Google employees using PowerMeter in a closed beta. They will roll out the plan to another 200 employees, and open the beta after that. The project hinges on the fact that there are 40 million “smart meters” in the world that even allow software such as PowerMeter to tap into your own person power usage. According to Information Week, another 100 million are planned – over 40 million as part of President Obama’s recovery plan. What I find interesting about this move, after shutting down projects such as the Google Notebook and Dodgeball, is that it shows the company is not just sitting around counting up their cash from a dominant ad network. There’s a huge need for something like this, too. I’d love to be able to see that an appliance in my home was sucking up all the energy, and then replace it or use it less frequently. I also know that leaving a computer on 24x7 is a huge waste, even if it goes into standby mode. Where I’m a bit incredulous about PowerMeter is that I’m not sure it’s a good sign for a company to explore an area such as electrical usage when they have no experience with it at all. I’m still waiting for the first lawsuit over an issue like this: e.g., “I used Google PowerMeter to control my electrical usage and my house burned down.” I know that’s a stretch, but people have sued over more frivolous stuff. Crawling the Web is one thing; crawling the electric grid is something else entirely. I just got back from a trip out West and met with a few companies, and one of the things they mentioned (in the context of the cloud) is this notion of having a data center in your neighborhood to control the flow of IT is kind of crazy – as if IT was just an electrical pulse. I see PowerMeter as the exact opposite problem: Google does a good job with technology, but the world of home utility usage is a completely different animal. But, who knows – maybe the electrical grid, with all of its local utility companies and proprietary technologies, is less complex than the Internet. Heh, maybe.

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