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Microsoft "Hohm" Connections Available to Seattle City Light Customers

Seattle City Light is the first utility to announce that it is offering customers the ability to link their electricity consumption data with Microsoft Hohm. Google's Powermeter has a head start over Hohm, but both lag behind the energy-monitoring industry.

The "Home to Grid" movement has considerable potential. Giving people information is not enough to cause sweeping behavioral change, but it's a start. I call energy monitoring the "gateway drug" that gets people hooked on energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Very soon, though, utilities will need to reach beyond the smart meter directly to appliances. Not enough homeowners will manually shift their peak demand. Remote control lets utilities reshape load curves and avoid building more power plants.

Non-residential buildings remain the biggest area of potential energy savings. Businesses consume about half of US electricity, and they're cooperative because energy represents one of their larger controllable expense line items. That's where utilities, aggregators, and national labs are trying out the latest "building to grid" remote control technologies.

Those technologies are gradually trickling down to the home. Meanwhile, Microsoft and Google are answering the question, "Who will be the Microsoft and Google of the smart grid?"

In this corner

Microsoft's Hohm is an internet application that tracks energy use and provides personalized energy conservation recommendations. Hohm uses analytics licensed from Lawrence Berkeley Labs and the Department of Energy to assess users' energy data, home features and appliances, and then identifies personalized energy saving recommendations. Those recommendations could range from placing new caulking on windows and removing air leaks to installing a programmable thermostat.

In the other corner

A very similar application, Google Powermeter, announced in May that it had signed agreements with San Diego Gas & Electric, TXU Energy, Wisconsin Public Service Corp, White River Valley Electric Cooperative, JEA, Glasgow EPB, Reliance Energy (India) and Toronto Hydro–Electric System Ltd (Canada), as well as smart-meter maker Itron.

Front row seats

Seattle City Light was one of four launch partners when Microsoft Hohm debuted in June and today became the first utility to announce that its customers can connect with the data feed. Incentives and rebates are available to help City Light customers improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Among them are discounts on compact fluorescent light bulbs, rebates on energy efficient light fixtures and washing machines, rebates for recycling an old refrigerator and a rebate on the installation of a ductless heat pump.

Other contenders

I wrote in February '09 that Microsoft wouldn't take a back seat to Google in this space. But Microsoft and Google are not the only ones drooling at the number of households in the U.S. that will someday have smart meters. Cisco and IBM have their eye on the smart grid. Several companies, and a few associations, have been working on energy monitoring for years. Should they be nervous?


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