More than 100 years ago, William Thomson observed that “if you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” William Thomson, also known as 1st Baron Kelvin or Lord Kelvin, is the Irish-born British mathematical physicist and engineer perhaps best known for developing the Kelvin scale of absolute temperature measurement. His observation has never been more applicable than it is today with America’s consumption of electricity. Apart from receiving our monthly electricity bills, it’s difficult to measure in real-time how much electricity we use. Sure, we can purchase power monitors to measure the energy consumption of a single appliance or gadget, but these devices have obvious limitations. Today there is a potential solution that would enable us to measure our electricity consumption via the Internet, and the solution comes from an unlikely source–Google.
In 2004, Google’s founders outlined their “commitment to contribute significant resources, including 1% of Google’s equity and profits in some form, as well as employee time, to address some of the world’s most urgent problems.” From this commitment came Google.org, which works “closely with a broad range of “Googlers” on projects that make the most of Google’s strengths in technology and information.” Examples of current projects include Flu Trends, RechargeIT, Clean Energy 2030, and important for our purposes, PowerMeter.
PowerMeter, currently in prototype, will allow individuals to see and monitor their power consumption via the Internet. Initially, users will be able to track their electricity use through an iGoogle widget. Of course, Google is only providing the IT infrastructure. Consumers will need a smart meter to send the information Google. A smart meter, which would replace the traditional electricity meter you’ve no doubt seen on the side of your home, broadcasts in near real-time energy consumption via a network. By combining a smart meter with Google’s PowerMeter, you will be able to monitor power consumption from anywhere you have Internet access.
There’s no indication from Google when the service will become available. And it will require cooperation from power companies, although some utilities are already offering smart meters to their customers. But the reaction from some Google employees using the system has been positive. By monitoring power consumption online, they can tell when appliances or other power hungry devices have been left on by accident. PowerMeter also allows them to see the benefits of choices they make, like replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs or replacing old appliances with newer, more energy efficient models.
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