Could Google's latest launches make metering more fun?
Source: Flickr user desk003
Google pushed the hype machine into overdrive on two fronts this week. First it sprinkled some social networking features on Gmail and released Google Buzz. It quickly followed up with an announcement revealing plans to test a high-speed fiber-to-the-home network encompassing up to 500,000 households. The effect of those moves on their respective markets is already the subject of some interesting debates, but what impact (if any) will they have on Google’s forays into the home energy management space? Are they signs of a smart grid strategy that’s starting to fall into place? Let’s have a look.
A Smart Grid Data Diet That’s Rich in Fiber
The reason for Xcel Energy’s cost overruns in Boulder, Colo.? Fiber. Google, on the other hand, seems undeterred by the cost of deploying the pricey fiber optic strands. Sure, Google paints the endeavor as a platform for innovation on an Internet unencumbered by restrictive bandwidth limits – it’s not getting into the ISP business — but there’s no reason why smart grid communications can’t hitch a ride on those ample pipes.
For utilities and software providers, Google’s 1 Gigabit per second fiber network can also serve as a testbed for data-rich smart grid applications that threaten to choke conventional broadband or wireless networks. During our recent Smart Grid Bunker Event, Andy Tang, PG&E’s senior director of the Smart Energy Web, warned, “the amount of data that is coming in with the smart grid will overwhelm us.” With fiber, the network won’t stand in the way of software innovation, not to mention the automated and distributed computing models that can really help the smart grid’s energy-saving potential materialize.
Generating Buzz for PowerMeter
Late last summer, we explored linking social networking and home energy management as a smart grid opportunity. Google’s response to Facebook may provide the most concrete bridge between the two markets yet.
PowerMeter, while familiar to watchers of the smart grid space, is experiencing a slow start as it lines up utility deals. Things can dramatically change, however, if the company’s web-based energy dashboard got a little more exposure among the millions of its Gmail users via links or Buzz-compatible widget. Picture Buzz timelines populated with “I saved this much today” messages courtesy of a linked PowerMeter account. That would certainly help get the word out and encourage others to check it out.
The best part? Google doesn’t even have to wait for utilities to expand their smart meter rollouts. The company already has a hardware partner in Energy Inc., the makers of TED, and Digi’s just-announced ZigBee HAN gateway is proof that companies aren’t waiting for smart meters to arrive before letting household make smart decisions about their energy consumption. Simply put, Google Buzz may be the mass-market platform PowerMeter’s been waiting for.
Will Google follow through? Perhaps not in the near term. After all, online advertising is its bread and better. Attracting clicks on its Google-owned properties and getting users to voraciously consume ad-supported online content via fatter pipes has a more immediate impact on the bottom line. However, if Google is really serious about home energy management and the smart grid in general, not incorporating these two new aspects of its business would be a huge missed opportunity.