PowerMeter: Proof positive Google wants to run your life

Joining Google’s Android, Calendar, Docs, Mail, Maps, Reader and a few dozen other products today is a new application, PowerMeter. It’s not launched yet, but when it is, it’ll help you keep track of your home power usage by tapping into information sent from your devices to your electrical meter, and from there on to the “smart grid”.

What Google is showing of PowerMeter looks a bit like a line graph, with the X-axis representing time and the Y-axis showing both the amount of power used and which device used it. The theory is that if people can see how they’re wasting electricity, they’ll change their behavior. As its motto for PowerMeter, Google is using a Lord Kelvin quote: “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.”

To achieve that measurement aim, the company will need the smart grid to be more developed. Utilities still need to install communicative smart meters countrywide. The manufacturers of everything from your television to your dishwasher need to design those devices to talk, or a startup has to figure out how to do the same. Google will reportedly be working with other companies, who will handle the hardware side of development.

But the process should go fairly quickly. President Obama is pushing the smart grid, and there’s a big chunk of money set aside for it in the stimulus bill. General Electric just ran a Super Bowl ad about the smart grid, so it has entered the popular lexicon. Industry insiders estimate that smart grid devices should be widespread by next year. Then Google will be there, providing an interface with your devices.

My bet is that if Google proves it can oversee your home and devices with PowerMeter, the next logical step will be to offer direct control. Want your TV to turn on for an 8pm show? Sure, why not. Google could make sure your morning coffee is ready when you wake up, run your dishwasher at night, or flick lights on and off while you’re on vacation to keep burglars away. And every time the user wants to look at an application or change a setting, there’s a chance for some face time with the more important product of all, Google Adsense.

That may sound unlikely, but Google is already going for full contact with your everyday life. It’s there when you’re communicating with others, through Gmail (which now links to popular chat services). It’s on your phone, whether through Android or by syncing with your iPhone. Google is what everyone uses for search. It wants to help you find your friends, and vice versa, with Latitude. The list goes on. If it gets its wish, Google will be the real-life version of Taco Bell in “Demolition Man”.

On the other hand, Google’s entry into the smart grid is great news for the industry and a genuine help where it’s needed. And it’s keeping the search company firmly in its area of expertise, managing large quantities of information. There are plenty of parallels between an information network and an electrical network — so it should be interesting to see where Google takes this idea.

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