Does Google's PowerMeter Make Smart Meters Irrelevant?


Image via Mashable

Google's PowerMeter is making huge strides in leapfrogging the lumbering smart meter installation process, with utilities slowly integrating them into the nation-wide smart grid upgrade. For a quick refresher: the smart grid is an electric grid that is wholly connected, from energy source to end user, so that everyone who participates in the grid can be more effective in minimizing energy consumption. On the consumer's end, a smart meter enables a dialogue between the utility company and the building, allowing for real time pricing and detailed feedback on consumption habits. However, despite the fact that several utilities are racing to install the latest hardware in homes and buildings, could Google be making the effort a waste of time? It's a question being asked as the company lands partnerships with more device manufacturers that consumers can get ahold of and use without waiting around for utility companies to get their act together.
PowerMeter Partnering with More Gadget Companies
Awhile back, Google's PowerMeter partnered up with The Energy Detective (TED) to provide users with a monitoring system. The duo basically does what a smart meter can do with a utility, but without having to wait for utilities, which are slow to get on board with new hardware and software for the smart grid.

Now, PowerMeter is also working with devices from Current Cost, which use the PowerMeter API Google released in March to make their devices compatible with Google's service.

Pictured above is the ENVI, which can calculate how much your energy is costing you and where you're using the energy in your home. It doesn't integrate with your utility, so it is not the same as getting real time pricing, but it does tell you a fairly accurate estimate of what your bill will look like as you use energy so you know when - and where - to conserve. You can then go on to PowerMeter and check out your historical data, seeing your habits and areas for improvement laid out in one place.

BNet points out, "It's useful for customers whose homes don't have a smart meter. Or for anyone with a energy device who wants to bypass the smart meter altogether, which has become an appealing proposition for some unhappy utility customers. Earlier this month, utility PG&E; acknowledged that as many as 23,000 customers that have its new smart meters received inaccurate bills. Similar problems have been reported in Texas. Disgruntled utility customers may end up using the energy devices and PowerMeter as a check against their bills, for example."

So, Do We Need a Smart Grid?
While this isn't the same as a smart grid, the forward momentum of PowerMeter does beg the question - do we need to wait around for the smart grid to conserve energy?

Yes and no.

No, we don't need to wait until we all have smart meters to conserve energy. Even as smart meters are being installed in many areas, it doesn't mean that they're fully functional. Smart meters are just one hardware component of a much bigger beast, and they're being installed to get ready to function as part of the smart grid. Even if you have a smart meter, it doesn't mean that your utility is yet capable of doing real time pricing, or linking it up to other parts of a smart grid. Knowing this, it makes a lot of sense to take advantage of PowerMeter and participating power monitor devices to start conserving energy now.

But, this doesn't replace the need for everyone to eventually have smart meters linked up to a smart grid. PowerMeter can monitor your consumption habits, connect you to a community of other people also watching their energy use, and give you a great feeling for how much you're spending and where to cut back. But the smart grid as a whole is much, much bigger than just this.

Eventually, a smart grid will be able to connect power sources - including renewable energy - with utilities, and utilities with end consumers, creating a constant dialogue that allows the most efficient, intelligent use of energy sources. That means we'll be able to minimize energy use, and therefore minimize how many new power plants we need to bring online. Consumers will be able to have real time pricing, paying less when energy is plentiful and more when supplies are tight, encouraging off-peak power use and leveling out the supply and demand spikes for energy throughout the day. PowerMeter will even be one of the (many) dashboards people can use to monitor their energy use and interact with their utility company, and PowerMeter is already partnering with some utilities.

The smart grid is still entirely necessary, and smart meters are a vital component. However, in the mean time, Google is making some incredible progress in giving consumers the information they need on a platform they can use to cut back on energy consumption.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter
More on Google's PowerMeter
Cisco's Smart Grid Bests Google's PowerMeter When it Comes to Climate Change Solutions
Google PowerMeter's Adds Info Sharing - Is it Just What We Need, or TMI?
Google PowerMeter Working on Smart Meter Mimicking Tool (Video)

Tags: Electronics | Energy Efficiency | Gadgets | Google | Utilities