Hohm: Microsoft Enters Home Energy Management

hohm.jpgThe field of competitors within the emerging field of energy management software now includes Microsoft. Earlier this week Microsoft launched Hohm, a home energy management application that delivers appliance specific energy consumption data to users through a web interface. The intention behind Hohm is to enable consumers to gauge their electricity usage and determine strategies for reducing consumption.

Microsoft’s entrance into the field comes only one month after Google released similar software, known as PowerMeter. Hohm is being launched with four utility partners including Puget Sound Energy, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Seattle City Light and Xcel Energy. At this time, it’s unclear as to whether or not Microsoft intends to deliver a similar offering for enterprise customers. What is certain is that Microsoft believes in the pivotal role that technology will play in addressing energy issues.
Detailed, fine-grain tracking capabilities of Hohm will only be available to residential customers who have opted into the program with Microsoft’s initial four utility partners. However, other U.S. consumers can use Hohm to gauge the efficiency of their homes and appliances. With a specific emphasis on heaters, air conditioners and lighting, the data behind the software was licensed from the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and the Department of Energy. Leveraging this data, users will also be able to estimate the overall CO2 emissions associated with their energy usage. To accomplish this, the Hohm backend examines the makeup of generation sources that service the customer’s region.
A key feature of the new offering is that in addition to delivering near-real time usage information, it also provides users with actionable strategies and recommendations for adjusting energy practices that save money and reduce environmental impacts.
Microsoft intends to expand the reach of this new application and is pursuing partnerships with a half dozen other utilities that they expect to sign on by the end of 2009. Although most utilities are just beginning their implementation of smart meters, there’s already a heated competition among companies to be the leading providers of the interface that communicates the energy usage data.
Hohm, however, has had a rocky start. Beta users who signed up this week have complained about being unable to log into the service and that they’re receiving internal server error messages. Microsoft is aware of the issues and is working on fixing problems caused by issues ranging from postal code discrepancies to incompatibilities among browser languages. Other users have complained that some of the manual data entry required is too laborious and that what’s really needed is a more automated system for capturing historical data.
Perhaps Microsoft was not quite ready to launch Hohm and, perhaps, they launched early as an attempt to keep pace with Google. Either way, consumers can rest assured that Microsoft will fix the known problems and that the evolution of home energy management software is now another arena in which Microsoft and Google’s fierce competition will drive innovation.

David received his undergraduate degree in Geographic Information Sciences from James Madison University and completed an M.A. in International Development at Clark University. With over 10 years of experience in the field of environmental sustainability, David has worked for organizations such as Environmental Defense Fund, USDA, USGS and the Smithsonian Institute.Currently, David is a NetImpact member and an MBA candidate at the Presidio School of Management where his research focus is on developing market incentives for investment in environmental sustainability.

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