Google PowerMeter lets you know if the lights are on

PowerMeter software, designed to show granular, real-time view of user's electricity-consuming devices, integrates into iGoogle platform

Google is testing software that will let consumers get detailed information on how much electricity they're using, which could help households reduce consumption by as much as 15 percent, the company said Monday.

The software, Google PowerMeter, integrates into the company's iGoogle platform, where users create a customized page with lightweight Web-based applications. The PowerMeter is designed to show a granular, real-time view of electricity-consuming devices.

[ Find out how Microsoft is also making it easier to watch your energy consumption: "Microsoft bolsters power management in Windows 7" | Keep up on green IT trends with InfoWorld's Sustainable IT blog and Green Tech newsletter. ]

Although PowerMeter is just a prototype now, consumers will eventually be able to opt in to use it, and no personal information will be shared between Google and utilities, the company said. The electricity data will be stored securely, and users will be able to tell their utility to stop sending data to the PowerMeter, Google said.

Most consumers don't have much data or context regarding their electricity consumption, according to Ed Lu of Google's engineering team.

Google's PowerMeter takes data from "smart meters," or advanced electricity meters and other electricity management devices. About 40 million smart meters are in use worldwide, with that number expected to rise to 100 million in the next few years, Lu said.

President Barack Obama's economy stimulus plan includes investments to put up to 40 million smart meters in U.S. homes.

Google takes data from a home's smart meter and displays it in a graph. It can show the current day's electricity consumption compared to the day before, but the graph can be expanded to get a historical view of peaks and troughs in electricity usage, Google said.

Google also plans to release APIs for PowerMeter that would let other software developers build applications around it.

Google is making a strong push for agreements with utilities on how to standardize the data that's available from smart meters. In a position paper dated Monday sent to California's Public Utility Commission, Google said that "the data from the smart meter needs to be available to the consumer in real-time and in a non-proprietary format."

California has been pushing ahead with Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) plans, which call for new meters that show real-time data well as pricing information to consumers.

So far, Google is letting its own employees test PowerMeter. The insights gained include at least two revelations about the electricity used to make toast and the inefficiency of 20-year-old refrigerators.

"One morning I noticed that my energy consumption was higher than normal," wrote Kirsten, a Google program manager, who didn't give her last name. "I went into the kitchen and found that the dial on our toaster oven was stuck and had been on all night.

"It was already burning and the once white exterior was now brown. If I hadn't seen my energy consumption and known where to look, my apartment could have been toast," she wrote.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.