Google PowerMeter tells you know if the lights are on

Google is developing PowerMeter, a Web-based gadget that shows real-time household electricity consumption information.

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Google is testing software that will let consumers get detailed information on how much electricity they're using, which could help households reduce consumption by as much as 15 per cent, the company said on Monday.

The software, Google PowerMeter, integrates into the company's iGoogle platform, where users create a customized page with lightweight Web-based applications.

The PowerMeter is designed to show a granular, real-time view of electricity-consuming devices.

Although just a prototype now, consumers will eventually be able to opt in to use it, and no personal information will be shared between Google and utilities, the company said.

The electricity data will be stored securely, and users will be able to tell their utility to stop sending data to the PowerMeter, Google said.

Most consumers don't have much data or context regarding their electricity consumption, according to Ed Lu of Google's engineering team.

Google's PowerMeter takes data from so-called "smart meters," or advanced electricity meters and other electricity management devices.

About 40 million smart meters are in use worldwide, with that number expected to rise to 100 million in the next few years, Lu said.

US President Barack Obama's economy stimulus plan includes investments to put up to 40 million smart meters in US homes.

Google takes data from a home's smart meter and displays it in a graph.

It can show the current day's electricity consumption compared to the day before, but the graph can be expanded to get a historical view of peaks and troughs in electricity usage, Google said.

Google also plans to release APIs (application programming interfaces) for PowerMeter that would let other software developers build applications around it.

Google is making a strong push for agreements with utilities on how to standardize the data that's available from smart meters.

In a position paper sent to California's Public Utility Commission, Google said that "the data from the smart meter needs to be available to the consumer in real-time and in a non-proprietary format."

California has been pushing ahead with Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) plans, which call for new meters that show real-time data well as pricing information to consumers.

So far, Google is letting its own employees test PowerMeter.

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