The tireless folks from Google's for-profit charity, Google.org, are developing a web-based application called PowerMeter that takes advantage of the increasing availability of "smart meters" from utility companies and independent manufacturers. Millions upon millions of homes and businesses are expected to be upgraded to these meters in the coming years, which (among other things) track electrical use in real time rather than just offering a simple sum of total use. This creates an opportunity for people to discover usage trends — and even help to identify specific loads — encouraging informed conservation. Google puts it like this:
How much does it cost to leave your TV on all day? What about turning your air conditioning 1 degree cooler? Which uses more power every month — your fridge or your dishwasher? Is your household more or less energy efficient than similar homes in your neighborhood?
Our lack of knowledge about our own energy usage is a huge problem, but also a huge opportunity for us all to save money and fight global warming by reducing our power usage. Studies show that access to your household's personal energy information is likely to save you between 5-15% on your monthly bill, and the potential impact of large numbers of people achieving similar efficiencies is even more exciting. For every six households that save 10% on electricity, for instance, we reduce carbon emissions as much as taking one conventional car off the road.The application is still in prototype — you can't get it yet — but when it comes online, how much will it cost? Answer: Nothin'. Free to the users, free to the utilities. We really don't know when it will be rolled out to the public, but it's likely not too far off. So why are utility companies switching over to the smart meters in the first place? Partly because they transmit data — providers can save money by pretty much eliminating the dwindling population of meter readers. It also opens up the opportunity to introduce peak billing to residential users.
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