The reality of Google PowerMeter

By Felix Salmon
May 22, 2009

Blog_Google_Powermeter.jpg

Kevin Drum is getting a bit ahead of himself, I fear, in his embrace of Google PowerMeter. He reproduces this chart, and says that the

PowerMeter app can be embedded on your iGoogle home page. Open it up and you can see exactly how much power you’re using every time you turn an appliance on or off. Neat.

In reality, however, we’re not remotely there yet. You see all those nice smooth lines and little wiggles in the Google chart? That’s not what you’re going to see when you combine PowerMeter with San Diego Gas & Electric’s smart meters. Instead, you’re going to see something much blockier: it’ll only show you total energy consumption on an hour-by-hour basis. So you’ll know how much energy use there was in the hour between 7am and 8am, say, but you won’t be able to see obvious spikes like the one for the dryer in the chart above.

And what’s more, if you turn on your dryer and then run to iGoogle to see what’s going on, you’ll see no change: the data on iGoogle will be for yesterday, not today.

More generally, the information you get from PowerMeter will be a subset, not a superset, of the information you can get directly from SDG&E. PowerMeter, at least in this case, is no more than an information delivery device: there’s no inside-the-home hardware involved, or anything like that. And if you get the information directly from SDG&E rather than from Google, you’ll be able to see not only how much electricity you’re using but also how much that electricity is costing you.

So the dream is great, and the reality is cool, but let’s not confuse the two.

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