Last week marked a setback for consumers looking to track and manage their home energy consumption. In 2009, Microsoft and Google launched services aimed at the nascent consumer home energy market. The two tech giants were looking to be the first to establish platforms for the anticipated wave of home energy management products. But in simple statements just days apart, both said that the services would be discontinued due to low adoption rates. How quickly they pulled the plug is disappointing, but speaks volumes about the challenge of innovating in the energy industry.
Google Powermeter allowed users to track their personal energy consumption. Designed as an open system, Google had been steadily forming Powermeter partnerships with hardware and software companies, such as the TED, Current Cost, and the UK’s AlertMe, smart electric meter manufacturers, and a number of prominent utility companies.
Microsoft Hohm was a web-based application that allowed users to monitor and analyze their energy consumption, and included a blog with energy-saving recommendations. Hohm created a rating system called a “Hohm Score,” which rated your home’s energy efficiency.
Both companies have claimed that these services were simply ahead of their time. Both voiced their long term commitment to green energy practices and future platforms.
What’s really behind these decisions? With Google pulling out first, it took the pressure off for Microsoft to keep Hohm afloat. Say what you want about Microsoft, but both tech companies know the importance of getting products to market quickly. In contrast, the energy industry is built on century-old technologies and complex physical infrastructure—power plants, point-to-point transport using ships and trains, substations and distribution lines to cities and homes, not to mention the tangled bureaucracy of federal, state, and municipal governments with a mix of regulated and deregulated service areas. It’s likely that both companies discovered that the energy industry operates on a geological timescale where fast-paced innovation is a foreign concept, and simply decided to get the hell out.
The lack of first-mover technology investments and large-scale competition is a huge loss. If two of the largest, deep pocketed tech companies pulled out after only two years, what does this say about the near term future of green energy products? What will happen to product companies hoping to build (or that have already built) on top of these platforms? Without a broad platform that connects products, services, and utility companies, there isn’t a viable ecosystem for true energy management at the consumer level.
It looks like the next wave of innovation will need to come from unexpected places—smaller, nimbler companies with a passion to create something meaningful, while larger companies reassess their commitment for a longer slog toward change.
Energized is an ongoing series following my education about living a more sustainable life.
Main image elements copyrighted by Michael McCauslin, courtesy of Creative Commons.
As Vice President of frog’s Design Realization group, Collin works closely with our design and engineering teams to bring innovative ideas to market. With over 20 years of experience in both creative and engineering management, Collin brings focus and multi-disciplinary expertise to this critical phase of the delivery process. In 1996, Collin co-founded frog’s digital media group and has worked extensively with frog clientele in the USA, Europe, and India.