Screen shot 2009-11-16 at 11.31.06 AMMuch has been written about how the bitter rivalry between Google and Microsoft has extended to their respective home energy management systems, Google PowerMeter and Microsoft Hohm. But most of these stories make it sound like the tools render the same service: reporting how much energy people are using and how much it is costing them. Few have sussed out their subtler differences.

With so many smaller players in the home energy monitoring field (think OpenPeak, Tendril, People Power, Gridpoint, etc.) and with Microsoft and Google predicted to rise to the fore, consumers and potential partners will need to have a clear idea of how these offerings differ. Here’s an insiders’ guide to where they diverge:

  • Both Hohm and PowerMeter can tap into smart meters to track how much energy households are using, and plot this data along a timeline.
  • PowerMeter essentially won the race, appearing in February, while Hohm launched in June.
  • PowerMeter has a more global presence, partnering with utilities in Germany, India and Canada. Hohm is so far limited to the U.S.
  • Hohm aspires to track all household energy use, including gas. Google has not set out these goals.
  • Both are partnering with utilities that are rolling out smart meters to their coverage areas. Google has partnered with nine utilities and has deployed PowerMeter with Yello Strom in Germany. Microsoft is partnering with four utilities and has rolled out with Seattle City Light, and recently Xcel Energy.
  • In order to operate in homes that are not yet equipped with smart meters, Google has partnered with two companies that make devices that channel energy consumption data without the meter, AlertMe and The Energy Detective. The Hohm team says it will look into doing the same but hasn’t made any announcements yet.
  • If no advanced meter or third-party device is installed, Hohm still estimates how much energy is being consumed based on location and information provided by users and compares it to national and regional averages to recommend ways to conserve. Google never asks users to enter their own information.
  • Google has a strategic partnership with major smart meter maker Itron and the National Information Solutions Cooperative. Hohm also works with Itron, as well as European meter maker Landis+Gyr.
  • Google will present PowerMeter data on users’ iGoogle homepages, to make it part of their regular daily workflow. Microsoft Hohm users need to log into to see their information.
  • Hohm provides users with more general conservation recommendations, like window caulking, installing a programmable thermostat, and other home weatherizing techniques. Google doesn’t do this.
  • Hohm incorporates a social-networking bent, allowing users to share home energy-saving tips and discussing behavioral and consumption patterns. Google doesn’t do this either.
  • The Hohm team has expressed more interest in working with smart appliance and plug makers to drill even deeper into how people use their energy. PowerMeter has been much less interested, hinting that it will rely on third-party developers to build on these solutions.
  • Google does not plan to charge any PowerMeter users for the service, which is run under its division. Hohm is free for consumers but plans to make money via contextual ads. It also expects utilities to start paying when it introduces remote appliance and home energy control capabilities.
  • Hohm has been more aggressive in its marketing strategy, tweeting and gathering fans on Facebook. Google hasn’t pursued these avenues as seriously.

While respectable utilities have signed on with both Google and Microsoft, some of the larger players have chosen to go a different way entirely. Pacific Gas & Electric, for example, said in July that it will wait for a less commercial, standardized interface that passes muster with the Open Smart Grid Goup. This move reflects a common concern among utilities: They want to make sure whatever home energy monitor they choose communicates seamlessly with other Smart Grid equipment.

The delay may help accelerate the development of universal standards, but it could also prematurely deflate initiatives at Microsoft and Google, which have yet to catch real momentum.

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