Green

GreenBeat: Google's Ed Lu declares PowerMeter a humanitarian mission

Google’s Ed Lu said today that his company’s entry into the energy network market doesn’t mean that utilities have to worry about the search giant generating or distributing electrical power.

Lu spoke at VentureBeat’s GreenBeat 09 event today. Discussing Google’s Powermeter with Matt Marshall, Venture Beat Editor In Chief and CEO, he seemed to be playing his cards close to his vest on some topics but was smilingly helpful on others.

Marshall comments that PG&E might be getting nervous with Google’s entry into energy networks. After all, the startup that took years to reach profitability has now launched browsers, word processing software, email with integrated calendars, even an operating system coming soon. Google came out of nowhere and is now a clear and present danger to Microsoft. When David grows into a Goliath himself, giants everywhere begin to worry.

According to Lu, though, these fears are unfounded. He says “…clearly, we aren’t going to generate or distribute power.  Utilities are good at that. We are good at reaching lots of customers and we think this is where we can help — we can help utilities reach customers and customers to monitor their energy usage.”

Of course, this is a similar line to what Google said about the Android mobile phone software two years ago.  Today, many aren’t even sure who manufactures the Droid, but everyone knows it’s a Google phone. Google is reportedly planning its own Google-branded Android phone. Goliaths everywhere wonder if their utilities are about to suffer a similar ignominous fate.

During the Q&A, though, an interesting fact: Google.com isn’t developing PowerMeter. Google.org is. That difference in domain name is three letters with a lot of meaning. Google.org is the philanthropic wing of the company, funded with 1 percent equity and 1 percent profit from Google corporate. The success or failure of PowerMeter won’t be measured in financial terms, Lu says, but in whether or not it helps save a “socially relevant amount of energy”.

He goes on to say that Google’s main play in energy is it’s ability to scale. The goal is to provide the interface from physical power meter to the consumer’s laptop or mobile phone, not to do the metering itself. With this in mind, he says, Google’s mission is to help the Tendril and Opowers of the world to grow in scale and reach more customers. Consumer data is to be the exclusive property of the consumer, who has the right to delete records and stop using PowerMeter whenever they choose.

Lu’s talk made Google appear uninterested in the business side of PowerMeter, saying google saw it’s mission as “helping” utilities.  Of course, they had the same mission with mobile phones vast profits are ensuing. We’ll have to wait and see if the same fate is in store for PowerMeter.