Friday, December 30, 2011

Google PowerMeter: The Utilities didn’t want it to succeed

Wanted to share this article on Google's PowerMeter from

Why was the plug pulled on Google PowerMeter?

Google’s philanthropic branch launched Google PowerMeter in February 2009. Its goal was to put the power of seeing electricity usage into the hands of the consumer. The idea was born of a study that showed that those that had access to daily energy data reduced usage by 10 percent. A powerful concept that information delivered could have such a great effect.

I was lucky enough to live in SDG&E territory and smart meters have been installed. I received a postcard from SDG&E inviting me and 100,000 of my fellow San Diegans to join Google PowerMeter. I also receive emails from the CCSE ( so I was in the loop. I installed the software and awaited the launch.

The data was excellent. It would show always on usage so you could see your baseline make changes and see immediate effect which in turn is immediate satisfaction in my estimation. You could look at hourly charts, daily charts, weekly charts, yearly charts. The ability to set goals was also part of the system and you could see when you met these goals with a star designation on that day of your data. I had it on my Google home page and it was up every time I booted up my system as I have Google as my homepage.

All this data for the price of nothing, zilch, nada, neinte, ingting.  The price was certainly right. The product performed well. It was available to a large city whose utility promoted the service. With all this going for it why did it fail?

 On September 16th 2011 Google pulled the plug on PowerMeter.
A criticism I had right away was that it did not include gas to which is also billed from the same utility with smart meters also installed.  How hard would it be to track both and make the tool twice as powerful?

With PowerMeter shuttering its door there are many theories.
  • Not available on a Universal scale.
  • The 24 hour lag time and no access to real time data.
  • The Utilities didn’t want it to succeed and buried it into obscurity
  • Pressure from Wall Street to stop “wasting money” on unpopular projects
  • Lack of access by third party developers
  • Lack of commitment by Google
While I can agree with the first point that it was not available on a large scale out the gate I am not sure that is reason enough for its failure. The immediate data is a good point but does that cause you not to even use it? That the utilities buried it into obscurity sound a bit conspiracy theory like and  does not make sense. SDG&E has a watered down version available on the web immediately after Google shuttering its door. It is called Energy Charts and is not as sexy as PowerMeter but is quite good and the data is there. If they are attempting to hide it then why spend money to keep a version of it.  I seriously doubt that Wall Street dictates anything to Google. When Wall Street has that power I would suggest you dump your shares if you are holding it. Third party developers felt left out but there is a privacy issue as well. If Google couldn’t give it away where was the market for the third party developers? Google has increased its investment in green technology to over 700 million so far in 2011. That shows a pretty strong commitment to me.

So why did it fail then?

I think the answer is quite simple really. Energy Costs are not painful enough for most to show interest. It is a strange commodity in the sense that every customer is more willing to accept the bill as the part of the cost of living. And we all have to live. While families will often cut back to save for whatever reason the power bill is often overlooked and or the last place they look to save. It seems only the folks who are already interested in saving electricity costs are the ones that signed up to use PowerMeter. According to Wiki, about six percent of SDG&E customers signed up for PowerMeter or a total of 11,000 homes.

I would contend that with a two year run and a six percent penetration the market is clearly apathetic. That apathy, more than anything else is the reason I believe is responsible for the failure of PowerMeter.

Is it all doom and gloom for the energy efficiency market?

Hardly, I will take the half full glass please.  94 percent of the market is out there waiting for the news. It is easy to save on power consumption with the right information. The costs are low and the paybacks fast. Real energy savings work every day and night of the week rain or shine. The house as a system approach leads to a healthier more energy efficient environment where we spend a great deal of time, our home. The market is there undeveloped.

Google PowerMeter Graph

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Solar Shaky as US Policy Fails and China Backs Futures

Although global demand for solar power is still growing — about 8% more solar panels will be installed this year compared with 2010 — bankruptcies, plummeting stock prices and crushing debt loads are calling into question the viability of the solar energy industry that since the 1970s has been counted on to advance the world into a new energy age.

Only a handful of manufacturers are now profitable in the face of too much capacity, which has contributed to a plunge in prices as government subsidies have been curbed. Prices for solar panels started 2011 near $1.60 per watt, but a buildup of inventory forced manufacturers into a fire sale toward the end of the second quarter that has pushed prices to near $1 per watt now.
'The prices that we're seeing today are likely not covering manufacturing costs in many cases,' says Ralph Romero.
With at least seven solar-panel manufacturers filing for bankruptcy or insolvency in the last several months and six of the ten largest publicly traded companies making solar components reporting losses in the third quarter, public-market investors are punishing the solar sector, sending shares down nearly 57% this year.
Winners are expected to emerge eventually, the question is how much more carnage there will be before that happens. 'The fact of the matter is, nobody really knows which solar companies will be pushed out of business or be forced to merge,' writes industry analyst Rodolfo Avalos. ' Nobody knows how long it will take for the solar industry to improve even when the foretasted solar global demand for the next 5-10 years is quite promising.'"
German company Solar Millennium on Wednesday filed for insolvency, putting in doubt the future of its 2,250-megawatt pipeline of power plants in the United States. The bankruptcy filing is the just the latest in a series of solar company failures. Besides the controversial collapse of Silicon Valley solar panel maker Solyndra, Stirling Energy Systems went belly up in September along with SpectraWatt and Evergreen. This week, BP pulled the plug on its four-decade-old solar division.

But all is not doom and gloom. Warren Buffett last week bought a $2 billion photovoltaic power plant in California being built by First Solar and on Monday Google and leveraged buyout giant KKR agreed to acquire four solar power plants under construction by Recurrent Energy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

America Beyond Capitalism: System Transformation is the Goal

New Models and New Vision bring CONFLICT.
What is our goal in American Democracy?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

That Which Once Was

Every day I wonder why people don't get it.

Watch That Which Once Was on PBS. See more from FutureStates.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Introducing 25e: The First Performance Based Tax Credit

Introducting 25E: The First Performance Based Tax Credit for Homes from Efficiency First on Vimeo

As the HomeSTAR legislation evolves into standards for software and quality assurance, we need to support the effort to keep scientific and predictive methods at the core of the building-performance work.

25e = a tax credit incentive for performance based energy efficiency improvements from 20%-50% ($2000-$5000) based upon on a software energy modeling of the improvements made, calibrated by past energy bills.

The work-scope is set and the home-owner and the contractor work together to complete the work. The process is monitored via a percentage of the jobs being audited by third party analysis, and photos before and after.

This program is standardized across all 50 states, and therefore needs no local approval from the state, county or municipal level. Both RESNET and BPI standards will qualify for this energy audit tax credit.

They project that 1,000,000 homes can be retrofitted in the USA between 2012-2016, with an average energy savings of 25% and cost of $2500 per home, costing the US Treasury about $2-Billion, while creating about 19,000 net jobs.

The incentives to create market penetration, combined with education, and codes and standards that lock in better practices to guarantee savings, taken together create jobs and new markets.

Whole Home Retrofits - are different than 25c tax credit which applies to single appliance or single item purchases (Windows or HVAC).

This kind of program increases efficiency which benefits the environment, gives the USA energy security, promotes individualist self-reliance.

National Resource Development Center - NRDC
GoldSTAR pathway of HomeSTAR - performance based incentive (tax credit)
Acronym Alert: Quality Control/Quality Assurance = QC/QA
The Alliance to Save Energy - conglomerate of organizations

For More information see Efficiency First - Americas Home Performance Workforce

Thursday, December 1, 2011

New Home Weatherization Standards from NREL

Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades: a conversation with NREL’s Dr. Richard Knaub

by Jane Pulaski Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades
Known as standard work specifications, or SWS, the simple, written descriptions explain how to perform specific tasks safely, efficiently, and of the highest quality.  Standard work specifications, when correctly used by the workforce, help eliminate inefficiencies and waste, nurture continued improvement, and assure the consumer of a quality product or service.  And now, thanks to the work of NREL and DOE, guidelines for the energy efficiency workforce using SWS are almost ready for prime time.
Knaub, a Project Leader in Weatherization & Workforce Development, at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, has been actively participating in the Weatherization training and standards development both at the state and national levels for the last several years.  NREL has been leading the development of the Guidelines (no small task).  In fact, according to Knaub, some 300 stakeholders have been involved in the process.  Technicians, trainers, home performance contractors, labor, healthy homes professionals, building scientists and other experts in the building trades and retrofit industry have been at the table for this project.
Because it’s such a big deal (and voluminous–620 pages), I wanted to know more—how this got started in the first place, and when we might see the final product.  Richard was kind enough to answer some questions about SMS for us. Here’s that conversation: