Utilities sign on to Google's PowerMeter strategy

Google's PowerMeter, a software gadget that lets consumers view their personal electricity consumption on their PC in near real-time, isn't worth too much unless it can be tied into the emerging smart grid via smart electric meters and other devices. Good thing, then, that Google signed up some real utility partners who not only are rolling out such smart meters, but also have pledged to support PowerMeter as they do so.

According to the Official Google Blog, Google has partnered with eight utilities, including one in India and one in Canada, in addition to Itron, a meter and data management company that helps utilities plug into smart meter technologies. Most notable of the new partners is San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), which says it plans to let its customers view their energy consumption via PowerMeter by year end. The others are:

  • TXU Energy (Texas)

  • JEA (Florida)

  • Reliance Energy (India)

  • Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (Wisconsin)

  • White River Valley Electric Cooperative (Missouri)

  • Toronto Hydro–Electric System Limited (Canada)

  • Glasgow EPB (Kentucky)

The partnering is good news for Google in that it ensures its PowerMeter technology will get into consumers' hands sooner. But it's also good news for the utilities, who can ensure that their rollout of smart grid technology will have practical uses right at the outset.

InformationWeek reports that SDG&E is in the process of installing more than 1.4 million smart meters in the San Diego region and expects to complete the project by the end of 2011. And once customers are armed with all this smart technology, the benefits will just roll in. As Hal Varian, SDG&E VP of customer solutions at the utility, says, customers armed with such data can conceivably reduce their energy usage by 5% to 10%, a pretty nice cost savings right off the bat.

But Google's PowerMeter isn't the only smart game in town. Varian was quick to point out that SDG&E is not locked into Google:

"All I can say is Google is the first; you'll see others," he said. "We have an open architecture. We're not just committed to Google."

He offered the example of consumers who create and store their own energy, via solar panels or other means, using the Web to track their usage and sell their unused capacity back to the utility. In other words, the opportunities are ripe for other software firms, not just Google, to step in and make a market. And once that happens, consumers and utilities will be able to make better informed decisions on power consumption and demand, which eventually, should lead to a more resilient electrical grid across the board. Nice.

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