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New Services By Google and Microsoft Aim to Bring Energy Savings to Texas Homeowners

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New Services By Google and Microsoft Aim to Bring Energy Savings to Texas Homeowners

New Services By Google and Microsoft Aim to Bring Energy Savings to Texas Homeowners

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Home Page > Home Improvement > New Services By Google and Microsoft Aim to Bring Energy Savings to Texas Homeowners

New Services By Google and Microsoft Aim to Bring Energy Savings to Texas Homeowners

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Posted: Sep 30, 2010 |Comments: 0



As we all know, Texas summers can be brutally hot, and Texas winters can be surprisingly cold. Both seasons end up wreaking havoc on our utility bills as we struggle to keep our homes cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Add in all the other little things — the coffee maker, the computer, the TV, and all the other devices that spend most of their time plugged into your home’s electrical system — and many homeowners give up on ever finding a way to really control their Texas electricity costs. But as energy prices continue to rise, and as the pressures on the average homeowner’s finances rise right along with them, the need to find new ways to cut costs and save money becomes a lot more compelling. We know that we could probably cut back on our energy usage, but how do we know where to start? Our Texas electric bill tells us how much energy we’ve used, but only once a month, and that’s not very helpful. Even when we make changes, it could take months to tell whether they’re working, or if they’re saving us enough to be worthwhile. At the same time, major sources of inefficiency might be going unnoticed and unaddressed.

Two competing new services, PowerMeter by Google and Hohm by Microsoft, are on the way with some new tools to help Texas homeowners. Microsoft estimates that the average American home could save almost 0 per year on energy usage. While that number sounds big, they base it on extensive testing in 60 million homes across the country; and of all 50 states, Texas ranked lowest in energy efficiency. Of course, what that really means is that Texas potentially has the biggest opportunity to use less electricity, reduce our carbon footprint, and save a whole lot of money.

Both PowerMeter and Hohm promise the potential for big increases in both efficiency and cost savings by way of an energy monitoring device called a smart meter. Once connected to your home’s electricity supply system, the meter sends an ongoing stream of data to your home computer via a connected wireless device. Your computer then sends that information on to a data hub run by one of the two companies. There, your information is analyzed and re-packaged into a dynamic, user-friendly web interface for you to review and use.

The appeal of these applications for homeowners is that your energy usage is no longer reduced to a single, inscrutable number on your monthly utility bill. The two applications differ somewhat in how your utility data is presented, but the primary feature in both is an extensive analysis of exactly how all of that electricity is being used. For example, Google PowerMeter can help you identify how much energy you’re using on a constant basis — the low-level drain from “always on” devices that can, over time, add up to a major source of inefficiency. Microsoft’s Hohm goes a step further by making active recommendations about how a homeowner might cut back their electricity usage, increasing energy efficiency and lowering costs.

There are further differences between the two services. Google’s emphasis is on the numbers; it tells you exactly how much power you’re using on an hourly basis, and generates graphs of usage over time, whether that means the last hour or the last month. This is a great service for people who like their data raw, as it means that a homeowner can correlate usage to specific patterns during the day. For example, if you know your usage spikes around 7 AM, you can probably guess that it has a lot to do with your family getting ready for work and school. Therefore, you might be able to save money if everyone takes shorter showers, or if you lower the temperature on your water heater. PowerMeter can also analyze usage patterns over the past to predict what your approximate usage and costs will be in the future. So as you make changes and check your results, you can watch your projected bills rise and fall until you’re happy with them.

Microsoft Hohm, on the other hand, is staking its claim on reaching the masses. Already available nationwide, Hohm’s interface is a a more comfortable affair, replacing a lot of the hard, granular data with a condensed “Hohm Score” that compares your home’s real energy usage to its potential energy efficiency — that is, how much you’re actually saving versus how much you could potentially be saving. It also guides you toward possible sources of savings, ranging from large and potentially savings-rich projects like insulating your home, to small things like replacing conventional light bulbs with power-saving compact fluorescent bulbs. It also allows you to compare your energy usage to that of people in your neighborhood, city, state, and all across the country.

If you’re interested in monitoring your home’s energy usage, there are a few things to keep in mind, since the two applications work a bit differently. So far, Google PowerMeter forms its main partnerships with utility companies, and to date it hasn’t established such a relationship with any Texas energy company, so for the time being it remains out of reach for Texans. However, if you’re interested in PowerMeter, it’s worth keeping in mind that while Google is sometimes a bit coy in the beginning, when they do enter a market, they often take it over completely. Google also has an excellent reputation for development, and loves to give its users exactly what they want. While PowerMeter might not yet be a player in your area, they could become the biggest game in town in the reasonably near future.

Microsoft Hohm, on the other hand, partners primarily with device-makers rather than power companies. Anyone can buy and install a compatible device and be up and running, no matter where they live or who supplies their energy. But Hohm requires more of a time investment to reach its full potential. A new user of the service will start out by answering a substantial number of questions about their home — details about the building, what kind of appliances you use, etc. — and some homeowners may find the process a little daunting. (Apartment dwellers may even find Hohm to be of limited use to them if they don’t have ready access to some of these details.) The good news is, even a partially-completed profile can produce some very useful insights and advice, and you can always add information and refine your profile later on.

If you’re interested in using Microsoft Hohm, your first step should be to contact your energy provider and ask them for any relevant information they can provide. Then purchase a Hohm-compatible device, such as Blue Line’s Power Cost Monitor, and register for your free Hohm account. Texas homeowners leaning towards Google’s PowerMeter service will have to wait a while longer, but in the meantime, you should contact your energy provider and let them know that you want to see a Texas energy company on PowerMeter’s list of partners.

In the end, it’s worth bearing in mind that both services are currently in their nascence, and will doubtless see further development and lots of changes in the future. As smart meters become more common and the cost of energy goes up, homeowners will do well to find a way to make use of the information that a these new monitoring tools can provide. Google and Microsoft are already working to make this information easily accessible to their users, and the competition between them will undoubtedly bring out the best in both.

There’s a lot of money to be saved on energy usage in this country, and perhaps nowhere more than in Texas. To help you make sure that some of that money ends up in your pocket, Google PowerMeter and Microsoft Hohm offer two great ways to discover your home’s potential for energy savings, and make your home the most efficient house on the block.



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Bounce Energy
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Bounce Energy is a Texas Electric Company based in Houston. Bounce Energy’s goal is provide more than low Texas