As we’ve reported, the big boys are jumping into the smart grid space just in time for the stimulus funds to rain from the sky. Google introduced its home energy management system PowerMeter in February; Intel has been hard at work developing a platform for consumers to view energy use on their computers and televisions; IBM is backing a bevy of smart grid startups. Now it’s Microsoft’s turn.

Today, the computing giant introduced Microsoft Hohm, a new online application that will also allow homeowners to view how much power they’re using and how to make money-saving cutbacks. Synthesizing technology licensed from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy, the system’s marquee claim is that it provides customers with personalized recommendations for how to save energy and lower their bills. And, unlike its competitors, it should be available soon.

Hohm’s recommendations range widely — from the simple “turn down the thermostat” to the less obvious “caulk windows to remove air leaks.” To do this, it takes into account information users enter about their home appliances, their energy-related behavior patterns, house features (think square footage), etc. If users don’t want to go to the trouble of providing all of this data themselves, Hohm provides a set of recommendations based on national and regional averages that customers can tailor to their own situations.

The Hohm platform also acts partially as a social network, connecting energy consumers with other Hohm users to swap ideas on conserving electricity, or, for instance, on where to find an accomplished caulker in the local area. It also ties in with Microsoft’s last big announcement, its so-called decision engine Bing. It also integrates with the Microsoft Advertising platform, but works perfectly fine on any computer or browser.

Microsoft is also teaming with several utilities (and is of course looking for more) to provide their customers with even more advanced Hohm features. Currently, it’s working with Puget Sound Energy, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (which also just inked a smart metering deal with Silver Spring Networks today), Seattle City Light and Xcel Energy. Customers of any of these utilities can opt to have their energy consumption data automatically uploaded to the application for easy viewing and even more tailored recommendations.

Covering its bases, Microsoft has even struck deals with smart meter makers Landis+Gyr and Itron to integrate its technology as closely with metering infrastructure as possible — supposedly making it even easier for utilities to adopt Hohm. This also allows Hohm to encourage demand-response strategies, instructing consumers to reduce electricity use during peak periods to redistribute energy and reduce outages, saving utilities substantial maintenance costs. This leans ever so slightly into an area so far dominated by the likes of EnerNOC, Comverge and CPower, who are probably already on alert.

Comparing Microsoft’s efforts with similar offerings already on the market — including startups developing related platforms like Tendril and EnergyHub — Hohm is clearly a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps its most formidable competitor, Google PowerMeter might have more utility partners in the hopper, but it isn’t expected to roll out until later this year. Intel also has yet to release a product as coherent and easy to use. And in this space — where consumers are looking for the simplest, most comfortable solution (Microsoft is a brand most Americans trust, after all) — it wouldn’t be too surprising if the early bird gets the worm.

Those interested in trying out Hohm and contributing feedback can sign up on its web site. They will be notified when the application is available in the next week or so.

Here’s the product demo:

http://images.video.msn.com/flash/soapbox1_1.swf