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Google going for smart meter

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Google, the online search engine that aspires to be the world's information clearinghouse, wants to help you manage your household energy use.

The company is now beating many power companies in smart grid development by offering a Google application that lets homeowners monitor daily energy use. Some electric utilities are responding to consumer demand and are cooperating with Google to offer the service, but many are reluctant to let the online search giant provide a service the utilities aren't capable of offering themselves.

Harry Wingo, Google's policy counsel, outlined the company's energy strategy in Raleigh this morning as the keynote speaker at an energy conference sponsored by the N.C. Energy Office. He spoke to some 800 people at N.C. State University's McKimmon Conference and Training Center at the meeting that runs through tomorrow and is titled "Sustainability: Moving Beyond the Federal Stimulus."

"Our mission is to organize the world's information," Wingo said, "and make it universally accessible and useful."

Last year the company introduced a free online application called the Powermeter that brings smart grid technology to the home. The Powermeter monitors daily energy usage and lets customers check the results online.

Some power companies are beginning to offer similar applications around the country as they install advanced digital meters called smart meters that provide daily energy usage graphs for participating households.
In this state, for example, Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation, a rural cooperative, offers smart meters to all 31,000 customers. Progress Energy plans to install 160,000 smart meters in Florida and the Carolinas over the next several years. The technology expansion is funded by federal stimulus money.

Google's service can operate with a smart meter or without. Customers who don't have smart meters can purchase an electricity monitor that attaches to the outside utility meter or to the fuse box.

"We want to help with putting energy information in consumers' hands," Wingo said after his presentation. "We really believe the information should be shared with consumers."


A handful of electric utilities
around the country -- but none in this state -- are working with Google to let customers access their energy usage data through the Google portal. Many consider the information proprietary and won't release it.

"Not every utility wants to share this information with third parties," Wingo said.

Over time, smart meters will provide real-time energy use readouts and will allow customers to program thermostats and appliances remotely.


Wingo
also said Google supports a range of technology innovators in the energy arena and is investing in wind energy, solar energy and geothermal energy projects. The company is also testing plug-in electric Prius cars at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

The annual energy conference held here is widely attended by academics, government officials, researchers and entrepreneurs in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Tomorrow's keynote speaker is Nate Hurst, Walmart's director of public affairs and government relations.

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About the blogger

John Murawski has been a full-time newspaper reporter since 1991, with stints at Legal Times and The Chronicle of Philanthropy (both in Washington, DC), The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Palm Beach Post (in South Florida) before arriving at the N&O in December 2004. At the N&O he covers energy (nuclear, coal, renewable, efficiency), hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), public utilities and health care. His beat includes PSNC Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Duke Energy Progress, PowerSecure International, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Biogen Idec and others. He has also contributed more than 30 book reviews on topics spanning botany, history, science and religion. You can reach him at 919-829-8932 or e-mail him.
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