Awaiting PowerMeter

By Felix Salmon
May 5, 2009

The behavioral sociology of measuring energy usage is simple: the more you know about how much energy you’re using, the less you use. Just getting the information cuts most people’s energy usage by somewhere between 5% and 15%, while people with high electricity bills (like me) find it much easier to isolate exactly what is causing those bills and can then work out how best to reduce them through upgrading appliances or replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs or any number of other routes to energy efficiency.

The problem is in the measurement. There is a natty gadget known as the Wattson which measures home energy use, but it’s expensive, and almost impossible to find outside the UK, for some reason.

Enter Google, which has now announced plans to release free PowerMeter software which will map any individual’s energy use on their phone, home computer, or iGoogle homepage. The little gizmo which plugs in to your fusebox is going to be very cheap, and with any luck will somehow be available for free to anybody who might have difficulty paying for it. (This is part of Google’s philanthropic google.org arm, after all.)

Google’s Dan Reicher mentioned the PowerMeter on a panel at the New Yorker Summit today, and I can’t wait to get one — I anticipate it’ll save me a few hundred dollars a year. His colleagues have already installed it — one of them discovered he was paying for all the washers and dryers in his building. When will I be able to get mine?

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