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Utilities Test Google Software To Save Energy

May 20, 2009 - Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

A handful of electric utilities are rolling out software made by Internet giant Google Inc. (GOOG) as part of their "smart- meter" programs in hopes it will help customers conserve energy.

Utilities including Sempra Energy's (SRE) San Diego Gas & Electric unit, Energy Future Holdings Corp.'s TXU Energy, and Integrys Energy Group Inc.'s ( TEG) Wisconsin Public Service Corp. are testing Google's software as part of programs to digitize their utility meters and relay usage information to the utility and to customers.

The application, called Google PowerMeter, reads information coming from a smart meter, and displays it in real-time on a Web site. As utilities increasingly embrace smart meters as a way to cut energy use, in part by charging customers for the power they use at real-time prices, they've been searching for ways to display the information in a user-friendly manner that allows customers to adjust their power use. Smart meters and their potential to help cut U.S. energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions, have been embraced by President Barack Obama and Congress, in part through billions of dollars in grants made available for smart-meter programs as part of the Recovery Act.

"A smart meter is just a meter unless you're able to utilize the information and get it into customers' hands," said Hal Snyder, vice president of customer solutions at San Diego Gas & Electric. The utility is rolling out Google's PowerMeter as part of its $572 million smart-meter program.

SDG&E estimates its smart meters, with the PowerMeter application, could help customers cut their use by 5% to 10%. Such cuts likely would come from people unplugging televisions, DVD players and other electronics, and turning off lights, Snyder said.

A small group of San Diego Gas & Electric employees has been testing the PowerMeter, and the utility plans to expand the program to 35 other customers this month. If the system works well, SDG&E likely will offer it to all 1.4 million customers slated for electric-meter upgrades over the next two years, Snyder said.

SDG&E and Google, of Mountainview, Calif., said they're working with electric meter and data management company Itron Inc. (ITRI) to work on putting the software in place.

Other utilities testing Google's PowerMeter include Reliance Energy in India and Toronto Hydro-Electric System Ltd. in Canada and Glasgow EPB of Kentucky, White River Valley Electric Cooperative of Missouri, and JEA of Florida. Google said it plans to partner with additional utilities and meter companies in the future.

-By Cassandra Sweet and Mark Peters, Dow Jones Newswires; 415-439-6468; cassandra.sweet@dowjones.com

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