Energy Side Effect: Google PowerMeter Makes Smart Meters Irrelevant

Last Updated May 25, 2010 4:10 PM EDT

Google PowerMeter, the free home-energy monitoring software, may not have started out as a disruptive technology. But the Google (GOOG) product is doing a damned good job of making the smart meter about as necessary as another American Pie sequel. Google PowerMeter announced Monday it was partnering with Current Cost, a U.K. company that sells real-time energy-usage monitors. Current Cost will now offer devices that are compatible with Google PowerMeter, and will upgrade existing customers so they can use the Google software.

These monitors are interesting because, unlike a smart meter, they allow customers to watch their energy consumption in real time. The Current Cost monitor plugs into a wall outlet and displays up-to-the-minute energy use on an attached screen. The monitor gets its data directly from a customer's utility meter via a sensor and transmitter connected to the meter itself.

PowerMeter essentially takes this real-time information a step further. A Current Cost user can connect the device to a computer, where energy consumption is tracked via PowerMeter and the data is sent to a customer's iGoogle homepage. Once connected to Google PowerMeter, users can access the information online. PowerMeter users can look for trends or spikes in energy use during certain times of the day or track down a particular energy sucker in the house. Smart meters, on the other hand, are controlled by the utility and the information oftentimes reaches the customers after 24 hours or more.

It's useful for customers whose homes don't have a smart meter. Or for anyone with a energy device who wants to bypass the smart meter altogether, which has become an appealing proposition for some unhappy utility customers. Earlier this month, utility PG&E acknowledged that as many as 23,000 customers that have its new smart meters received inaccurate bills. Similar problems have been reported in Texas. Disgruntled utility customers may end up using the energy devices and PowerMeter as a check against their bills, for example.

The Current Cost partnership wouldn't be significant if, the philanthropic arm that started Google PowerMeter, hadn't already signed on with device makers AlertMe and Energy Inc. Now that has opened up its PowerMeter API, companies like Current Cost will be able to access code used in the software and build home-energy devices that work with Google's product. By opening up their code, is encouraging device makers to use it. Which will likely turn into partnerships down the road.

It's not that is trying to kill the smart meter. PowerMeter was originally designed to take information from a smart meter installed in your home. And it signed on with a number of utility partners including San Diego Gas & Electric, TXU Energy, Wisconsin Public Service and German utility YelloStorm. But PowerMeter would become irrelevant and overcome by its competitors rather quickly if it relied solely on partnerships with utilities since it would only be available to those customers.

Now, the software tool can reach millions more customers through partnerships with energy device makers. These partnerships start to solve the accessibility problem with Google PowerMeter. It also makes it far more competitive with Microsoft's (MFST) Hohm as well as a host of others in the increasingly crowded home-energy monitoring market.

Photo of light switch from Flickr user SeveStJude, CC 2.0 Google PowerMeter logo from Related: