--from the Guardian
To save money, emissions and indulge my inner geek, I've tested the Google Powermeter – and it has not been an entirely pleasant experience
Not content with dominating the way we send email, find information and navigate the real world, Google now hopes to manage your home's energy use. In the spirit of saving some money, emissions and indulging my inner geek, I signed up to see whether its Powermeter really is the future. For the past two months, the software – which arrived in the UK in November – has been tracking and broadcasting to a web page how much electricity my early-20th-century, three-bedroom terraced house consumes.
It's not been an entirely pleasant experience. While I had it setup in 10 minutes – using a small hub and sensor from British company AlertMe to plug into my web connection – seeing my electricity use on an iGoogle page alongside my email, news, RSS and other widgets was sometimes a scary reminder of our profligacy.
Our house typically rests at around 150 watts running a computer, fridge and a couple of lights, but it's not uncommon for that to jump up to more like 3kW (3,000 watts) with the washing machine and dishwasher running simultaneously. In December as a whole, the Powermeter graph reminded my daily, we used a shockingly high 370 kWh – but fortunately December's also probably our highest month for energy use, because it's one of the darkest and the one where we're most frequently at home.
Google Powermeter makes looking at your energy consumption almost fun – at least in comparison with deciphering cryptic energy bills. While you can download the raw data of your electricity use, a quick look at the baffling spreadsheet showed the importance of a meaningful interface such as Powermeter's graphs.
Interestingly, while I was trialling the service, Google dropped Powermeter's comparison feature – where you can see how your use compares with US regional averages – because it felt homes varied between regions to the point of making comparisons meanignless. I'm inclined to agree. Usage for our three-bedroom terrace house was regularly described as very good and akin to a one-bedroom apartment, which doesn't tell me much, except how high US domestic energy use is.
I've also been trying British Gas's new EnergySmart tariff, which gives you an energy monitor gadget and makes you submit monthly meter readings. Charles Arthur has reviewed a version of the monitor – he was impressed – but the most useful part of the tariff for me has been the financial incentive to save money on a month-by-month basis, knowing that each kWh saved will be reflected on that month's bank statement.
Ultimately, the really interesting stuff for this technology will come when all this data gets shared socially – and results in the sharing of advice and the application of peer pressure to make people change their habits. While iGoogle and Powermeter doesn't let you publish your energy use direct to Twitter or Facebook, AlertMe offers a personal "Swingometer" to post a basic image of your energy use on Facebook, Twitter or your blog.
Regardless of whether or not Powermeter takes off, we'll all have some sort of standalone energy-monitoring gadget showing electricity usage in our homes by 2020, thanks to the government's smart meters plan.
Meantime, the best way for most people to try an energy monitor – without spending £69 plus an ongoing £3 monthly subscription for AlertMe and Powermeter – will be to borrow one from their local library. A trial that started in Lewisham has since spread across the country, from libraries in Leicester and Brentwood to Cardiff and York. Not for the first time, old-fashioned institutions of learning could trump new-fangled technology and gadgets.