Google quits smart meters. Anyone care?

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Elisa WoodBy Elisa Wood
June 29, 2011

Who doesn’t pat themselves on the back when Google puts money into their industry? Ah, the giant likes this market. I must be on the right track!

So what does it mean now that Google has announced it will retire its Google PowerMeter because it didn’t catch on? Are all those companies who are investing in smart grid on the wrong track?

Clearly not. Google had star quality in the market. But other, more boring companies continue to pursue tremendous smart energy innovation, and they do so with strong government backing.

The energy entrepreneurs are out of the barn, as they’ve never been before. Here are just a few intriguing advancements that made the news around the time Google said that it was quitting the race.

  • Echo is a solar energy system that its makers say is three times more efficient than a basic solar electric photovoltaic system. Echo does this by capturing and using the excess heat generated by solar panels, giving the panels a dual purpose – they generate electricity and provide thermal energy. And there is more, according to C.R. Herro, vice president of environmental affairs for Meritage Homes: “Echo not only sets the standard for energy generation, its advanced technology lets us communicate the benefits of solar to our homebuyers.  When we show homebuyers that they can use their mobile phone to monitor their home – and act as a remote control for their thermostat they don’t want to settle for anything else.”
  • Intel is offering Tech Wonders, which features a free app that lets you donate to researchers your computer’s power when it’s idle. When you are away from your desk, your computer contributes its spare processing power to a massive environmental model intended to forecast climate conditions in the 21st century.
  • The IBM Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities helps cities anticipate problems, respond to crises, and better manage resources. The technology infuses digital intelligence into municipal operations through one central point of command. This can help cities make best use of various resources, including roads. Drivers get real-time traffic information across multiple areas so that they can choose the best route to travel and save gasoline. The IBM system also can help save energy in buildings. It integrates on a common network their heating, air conditioning, lighting, communications, security and maintenance systems. With the help of thousands of sensors, the system analyzes a building’s energy use and provides a real-time view of its performance, exposing its inefficiencies.

What’s the takeaway from Google’s departure from smart grid? Sure Google transformed the Internet with a phenomenal technology. But don’t expect dorm room kids to achieve the same with the very complicated North American electric grid. One killer app is unlikely. Instead it will probably be a myriad of technologies that upend the old way of using and generating power – created by a myriad of companies. And probably few, if any of them, will be flashy enough to have a company name that is also a verb. It will be the work of many that will get us all ‘smart gridding.’

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.


  1. Mike Thomas says:

    So what’s the answer to the question “Why didn’t it catch on?”. Surely the rich dorm room kids could hire some experienced professionals, who would then produce an application with broad appeal. This industry is crying out for standardization, and Google is one company with the profile and resources to lead the way.

  2. Ski Milburn says:

    I’ve been an alternative energy entrepreneur for over 30 years, in solar thermal, solar electricity, fuel cells, clean diesel, wind and a couple of other things. I live in “Smart Grid City”, aka Boulder, Colorado and have PV on the roof, a plug-in hybrid prototype in the garage and a smart meter on the wall.

    I have become convinced that the topology of the “smart grid” as we know it today is fundamentally flawed and I suspect Google has figured this out too. There is a better way forward that plays to their strengths and they were in the space long enough to figure it out. If they haven’t yet, they will soon. Google’s precipitous abandonment of the “hottest game in town” doesn’t take any luster off the Smart Grid for me, it just makes me think somebody has figured out how to do it right.

  3. As I mentioned in recent post, you can put all the information available in front of consumers but if they don’t give a rip, they won’t use it and it won’t help them save energy. This relates directly to the failure of this meter.

  4. Charlie Nobles says:

    I heard Google speak on their smart meter program a couple of years ago, and had some concerns then. First, Google didn’t have a smart meter to capture the rich data they needed. Second, they planned to get data from utilities that had installed smart meters. These utilities had no incentive to give Google this data; that would put someone else between them and their customers. Google had nothing to really offer the utility to get this data from them. Offering to house and analyze this data was not compelling to the utilities, since they already had the means to store this data in their own data farms. It is true Google could create neat apps with this data, but the utilities are finding that other companies can be contracted to provide apps around this data as well. The utilities are struggling to find accretive ways to give this data back to their customers, since encouraging them to conserve is really a ‘revenue erosion’ proposition for the utilities, unless they are short on generation and having to buy generation on the market. Without access to the customer usage data, and no compelling case to get this data from the utilities, I felt Google would have to partner with the AMI vendors, which they did not do. Meanwhile, startups like ConSert were working with utilities to help bring usage data to their customers, branded by the utility. Given this background, I wasn’t sure what Google would do to create unique value in this market, and am not surprised they decided to rethink their strategy here. I don’t think they are done, since they have enough money to buy up startups that would be helpful to them. Let’s see what their next step will be.

  5. Now that the google PowerMeter is retiring you may be interested in a google gadget for calculating individual annual savings from switching off Vampire power : –

    My premise to saving energy is “make it automatic” don’t rely on individuals!

  6. Google PowerMeter is not everything. It’s just a way of internet viewing. A lot of companies are running such service. It’s a matter of data transmission, software integration and server hosting.

    However, it’s true that Google PowerMeter is quite impactive due to its ability of popularization.