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 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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You can get some models of the Killawatt for $20. The cheapest has a single outlet but it’s still useful for spot checks of non-hardwired devices.

Posted by PeakVT | Report as abusive

You are right that the Google PowerMeter could reach a broader audience. The company’s philanthropy and resources could enable it to charge much less than competing products. I’ve been pleased with The Energy Detective T.E.D. device that costs US$145. I haven’t tried the T.E.D. software that costs an extra US$45 and runs on a computer that must be on all the time to track usage

Something similar is probably true in physically intimate situations requiring energy — the more aware you are of your efforts, the less energetic they are. Or something like that.

Posted by bdbd | Report as abusive

we released a smart meter (open source, patent free) a few months ago it uses a modified kill-a-watt and it twitters power usage (behavioral) it uses wattzon, google app engine, facebook, etc – etc. we released kits and folks in the from the usa to the uk to japan are making them.

we emailed google before they announced their power meter but only got an auto-reply. you can see it in action on twitter here:

Posted by pt | Report as abusive

You can do this with a spreadsheet and a Kill a Watt meter and a good wrist watch for the most part. a Bluetooth device that plugs into your main feed circuit would be better. and maybe some shareware logging applications. Major appliances you cant read with a kill a watt meter if you must know do the math and subtract the other load that you can measure or buy a real ammeter inductive type.

Posted by Bob | Report as abusive

And Google gets a nice profile of those of your daily activities, which use electricity, which is, like, most activities. Not so philanthropic after all?

Posted by Max Snauth | Report as abusive

I think the power meters are a great idea. If this fairly simple concept takes only a small percentage of usage off the average bill, it will be well worth the effort.

Power meter are really usefull, I can just encourage everybody to get one and to save energy by controling what they spend..

After getting Power Meter i have seen the difference, my electricity bill reduced by 10%

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