As scholarly publishers, we’ve all seen that when something of interest emerges in the consumer realm, it doesn’t take long for a similar pressure or initiative to hit us. Recently, a tussle that could have implications for data collection practices and potentials, as well as open data initiatives, emerged between Google and Microsoft.
The battleground? U.S. consumer energy use.
Hohm is a Microsoft home energy monitoring software available in beta since July 2009. The premise is straightforward — consumers complete an individual energy profile online and agree to let Microsoft access their current and historical data from participating utility providers (the first to partner with Hohm were Xcel Energy, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Seattle City Light, and Puget Sound Energy). Via the information that consumers supply and these utility-provided datafeeds, Microsoft acquires detailed data about on-site usage of heat, cooling, lighting, appliances, water heaters — even electric cars.
The proposed consumer value is that Microsoft will monitor your energy use to provide dashboard-like reports analyzing your household consumption and energy use and make recommendations for system or practice modifications that will result in lower energy use and cost savings.
There’s some interesting back-end detail on the Hohm Community Blog:
Hohm Beta uses the highly complex Department of Energy (DOE) 2 Building model, the de facto standard for building energy efficiency professionals. We also use analytics licensed from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, where some of the best researchers in the world innovate on energy efficiency. Using these models and analytics, we process up to two hundred user input variables, along with historical hourly weather data, aggregated averages derived over decades, and individual historical usage and pricing information to ultimately model energy consumption for a home.
And there’s also a noteworthy disclaimer —
We won’t be 100% accurate. And, in some cases, we might be quite a ways off, especially during Beta. Our goal for the Beta is improve the application and build up a database of information so that the system can learn and become even more accurate. While individual user data will of course remain private, we will carefully derive averages from the user base to help increase the accuracy of the application.
The Hohm sites, and the Community Blog in particular, have a crunchy, Pacific Northwest, “green” feel that will resonate with the young environmentalist concerned about his or her carbon footprint. Stodgier markets will be attracted by the opportunity to save a few greenbacks. It’s hard to argue with from either standpoint.
From a research perspective, having a brand-leader like Microsoft initiate data-gathering partnerships with all local utility companies performs a very interesting data aggregating function. Consider the analytical possibilities of having a centralized source for granular on-site energy consumption, with the potential to extend to global markets. There’s a lot of promise for value-added research but also a lot of potential to leverage this information in a highly competitive and lucrative global energy marketplace.
As with all things in the hot-and-getting-hotter showdown between Google and Microsoft, that’s not the end of the story. Paul Miller on Engadget mentions the competitive offering from Google, the PowerMeter API. And, just days ago, MicroChip announced that has partnered with Google Power Meter to release a more developer-friendly Reference Implementation that will “make it much easier to create products that are compatible with Google PowerMeter.” From the MicroChip press release:
Google PowerMeter is a free software tool that allows consumers to view their energy consumption from their iGoogle™ personalized homepage. Using information from energy-monitoring devices, Google PowerMeter helps consumers to save money and use less electricity. The open-source, standards-based Google PowerMeter API allows device manufacturers to build energy-monitoring products that work with Google PowerMeter.
On the Hohm front, Katie Fehrenbacher’s earth2tech blog interviews a Microsoft project manager who says that Hohm will begin making third-party hardware available this summer, including on-site power meters that will gather granular consumption data directly from the source.
The remarkable thing about these software mega-brands is that they employ bright, forward-looking technologists and have unprecedented access to capital and development resource — they leave no stone unturned in their quests to expand into relevant future markets. If we, as consumers, are naive enough to think that they are not commercially focused, particularly when witnessing their cut-throat competition with one another, we are certainly not ‘plugged in’ to the competitive landscape.
And while open data initiatives try to crawl the Web for freely available data, here are two commercial giants getting permission from consumers, striking deals with companies, and turning otherwise private data to their purposes. Their can openers may prove to be pretty powerful and persuasive. But will they just repackage the data into stronger cans?
While we contemplate the implications, we might as well sit back in our hemp hammocks enjoying our wheat grass shakes and the gentle breeze emanating from our solar-powered fans while these giants duke it out.