Google PowerMeter API: Innovation Deferred?

Google released the API for its PowerMeter energy management platform this week. And while it’s encouraging to see the company roll out the welcome mat to what may one day become a vibrant (and profitable) home energy app and device marketplace, developers and gadget makers may have to reel in some of their ambitions. Why? Let’s just say that PowerMeter’s promise is already bumping up against some technological limits.

A quick glance at the technical requirements for hardware compliance reveals three rules that PowerMeter compatible devices must abide by. Two of them are fairly inconsequential for web-savvy firms. Requiring secure HTTPS communications to Google over an Internet connection is both prudent and basic. Similarly, the “browser-based device activation and deactivation” requirement shouldn’t trip up too many device makers. After all, home routers have been serving up web-based configuration and update tools that users can access via their browsers for years.

So far so good, right? Not so fast! There’s one requirement left: the “whole-house monitoring” rule, which throws into stark relief the limits of present-day home energy management solutions and how it may take a while for startups in this arena to match the torrid pace of innovation set by their contemporaries in the Internet space.

Dashing Real-Time Energy Management Hopes

The whole-house monitoring requirement technically contains two parts. First, we’ll focus on PowerMeter’s update schedule. (We’ll get to the other part a little later.) Google’s PowerMeter only accepts uploads a maximum of six times per hour, or once every 10 minutes. Updating more frequently will generate errors, warns Google. It’s not an unforeseen limitation; transmitting, collecting and processing all that energy data is an IT-intensive affair.  Nonetheless, it’s disappointing to know that PowerMeter developers and device makers won’t be providing the immediacy and near-real time engagement exemplified by the likes Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare — or, at least not out of the gate.

When Google Says Whole House, It Means Whole House

Want to drill down and examine the impact of an appliance on your energy bill? Sorry, you’ll have to wait for future releases. Compared to the 10-minute time delay described above, this is perhaps the most disappointing limitation. For now, compatible devices will only take a snapshot of your entire home‘s energy consumption — no appliances, lighting or electronics detail allowed. Sure, smart plugs and appliances are relatively rare at this early stage in the game, but it would have been nice to see Google prime the pump in this regard. Let’s hope those “future releases” aren’t too far off into the future. With EVs set to start rolling into garages in significant numbers later this year, users will undoubtedly want to track how much they’re paying the local utility for their daily commutes.

While the limitations are few on paper, they’re fairly significant ones. Certainly, there’s still plenty of room to innovate and great ideas will undoubtedly surface. But as Katie wrote in her recent guide for home energy management developers, startups should prepare to be patient, not to mention clever, when developing with Google’s PowerMeter API.

Question of the week

Will Google’s limits on PowerMeter hinder third-party support?
Relevant analyst in home energy management
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