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July 3, 2011

Google PowerMeter, MS Hohm: RIP (TED 5000, Go To Hell)

Category: Household,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 5:07 pm

Well folks, it didn’t happen this time. This week, Google and Microsoft both announced the end of their free energy data collection services, Google PowerMeter and MS Hohm, respectively.

This cannot be a good sign for the energy monitor business, especially the middle tier, notably Blueline PowerCost Monitor and The Energy Detective, but also CurrentCost Envi and others, even WattVision. All are priced at a point that is sufficiently high to make you think twice, and have a difficult task of demonstrating that the savings you’ll get will be enough to warrant the cost.

Higher-end models such as the eMonitor make a lot of sense, because what I saw was that the people buying them either had massive houses, or lived in places where electricity prices were high (e.g. Hawaii). I would not be surprised if these folks were getting bills around $500 to $1,000 per month. Not only did these customers have more money, they had a harder problem to identify, but easier to solve — one pool pump turned off for a few hours, or one AC unit turned down a little could easily justify the much higher cost. This same math doesn’t work for normal folks whose electricity bill is just one more $130/month bill.

Back in those heady days of 2008 when people gave a damn about things past the end of their nose (like energy conservation, climate change, etc.), businesses arose to support the novel idea that you should be able to keep track of how much energy you used. And Google and MS both offered services that supported these businesses by storing power data and providing a web interface.

But the start was rocky.

I blame The Energy Detective, or TED. I had the distinct displeasure of working with this company for some time, and have really pretty much nothing good to say about them. At first, it seemed great. But it turned out to be terrible. They created a product that was ridiculously and needlessly complicated, turned out to be very difficult to install, required an electrician and a network engineer, had poor quality control, and which is fickle at best, and for many people (including me) broke or failed repeatedly. Add to that several people in the support department, and the company’s CEO who were arrogant, dismissive and repeatedly pissed off customers with horrible service. Oh, and lets not forget the time in Fall of 2009 where they reported a short delay in shipment, which was only resolved about 5 months later. How to make people angry, 101.

TED 5000 was the first product that connected to Google PowerMeter, and in the Google support forums, people became angry at Google (whose service was free) when the TED 5000 failed in any of the numerous ways it could fail. Reports from Google, and even from TED competitors were that the outpouring of disgust against Google due to TED failures made Google reluctant to support any other products. Eventually they opened their API, but the TED had left a sour taste in everybody’s mouths.

So I blame Energy Inc, and TED 5000 for killing Google PowerMeter.

If the TED 5000 experience were not bad enough, Google PowerMeter also provided an interface to utilities who could upload customer data. Few joined, and reports were that many of those that did had spotty support. Utility companies get runner up for this dubious honor.

As Google found out, no good deed goes unpunished. It was noble of them. If only simpler and more elegant products like Wattvision had been the first to go, the world may have been a different place — their product sells in the same price range, does not require an electrician, and has a far better (i.e. simpler) design than TED, or even the venerable PowerCost Monitor. Of all that I tried (and I tried them all), only Wattvision “just worked”, and still does. I would think that there’s a way to make it much less expensive (remove the WiFi chip!!) and more useful (add a simple display). But chances are, the game is up.

I still find it odd to think that electricity (and other household energy) monitoring is not just something every house has. I still save tons of money every month, about $100/month at current rates (paying for all of my monitors many times over). We did this simply by finding small loads that I was able to eliminate. Until we make energy something that people can feel, nothing will happen. This is evident every time gas prices go up because paying for gas is something you do enough to know it costs something. Not so for electricity, and mostly not so for heating energy — they are hidden.

It will happen eventually, but not now. Our infrastructure is in terrible shape. Our will to take action appears to be in even worse shape.

18 Comments

  1. Hey, glad to see you back in the blogging saddle again!

    I was pretty upset to see PowerMeter go, I look at it almost every day. And even Hohm, although there wasn’t much to it, because I think it was the first service to present me with a graph that really got me motivated to move my consumption in a good direction. It worked – see http://sandeen.net/images/electric_history.png

    I do hope the other various & sundry little services make some headway; I think you’re right that the devices need to be simpler and cheaper. The wattvision approach with the IR pulse is good, although most utilities will balk at something strapped to your meter if they see it.

    Something like the GridInsight wireless receiver would be even better if it gets off the ground; people already HAVE energy monitors in/on their home, the utilities just don’t share the data in any useful way.

    I still have hope that if home energy monitoring is simple and inexpensive enough, people will catch the “bug” and make positive changes in their energy lives…

    Comment by Eric — July 3, 2011 @ 10:40 pm

  2. I’ll miss Google Powermeter as well. I’ve only been using it for about 2 weeks. I really wanted to have it around this winter when I could see what combination of propane furnace, wall mounted radiant propane heater and fireplace insert worked best. But like the author said. It wasn’t so much the powermeter as just being proactive and looking around your enviroment for energy consumption.

    Comment by Richard Barnes — July 4, 2011 @ 8:13 am

  3. Tom, you need to quit sitting on the fence on topics and be more direct in your opinion. :)

    Full disclosure – I’m the CEO of Blue Line Innovations so I won’t claim objectivity here.

    Tom – you raise some terrific points.

    My view overall is I’m really thankful that both Google and Microsoft stuck their toe in the energy reporting category. Big brands, which these are, lend tremendous credibility and validation….and this market needed that vote of confidence. I’m really disappointed to see both of these free applications go into phase out mode…. but life goes on.

    I’m not sure that either Google PowerMeter or Microsoft Hohm were positioned to “win”. This market is still very young and both the utility customer and the residential home owner have much to share re needs and wants. Big blue chip brands usually don’t make the great first entrants. The fact is neither solution right out of the box really hit the mark. Both customer groups had valuable feedback and requests to evolve the solution but nimble, responsive, and quick to act just aren’t core competencies of large brands and companies.

    The terrific news is those wants and needs are being heard and there are a number of very new and exciting FREE solutions that will be introduced to the market over the next few months. In a young market choice is critical for customers and that choice will be there. Blue Line will be announcing an exciting new partnership and solution next week – stay tuned.

    On another note I attended the Parks Connections conference last week in Santa Clara and there is some terrific research from Parks to be released shortly that will help us all “hit the mark” and really offers encouragement – this immature market is almost ready for prime time.

    Tom, thanks again for your perspectives ….but please no more fence sitting. :)

    Comment by Peter Porteous — July 8, 2011 @ 10:40 am

  4. Peter, do you see any movement towards device-agnostic services, and service-agnostic devices? I think the field is still thin enough that tight coupling between data sources (devices) and endpoints (viz services) is a detriment to widespread adoption…

    Comment by Eric — July 8, 2011 @ 11:06 am

  5. Thanks for the great comments, all!

    Peter P, sorry for being so mealy-mouthed about what I think :-)

    On thing is for sure, this is a market that rewards survivors, and BlueLine is and has been the US leader on that score.

    Eric — I think there are services that record data that are device-agnostic. Wattvision will accept input from their hardware or the TED 5000, for example. The data is pretty simple, something like: house/channel/power, where all the detail is time-stamped power readings. Perhaps a type (to accomodate energy use beyond electricity).

    Tom

    Comment by Tom Harrison — July 8, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

  6. Hei Mister. You give me information I was searching for. I have same feeling with quality of these products. I’m sure that this bussiness will start to rise in 5 – 10 years. But I’m sure it will rise only then when somebody like Apple will make product to follow.

    Comment by Janis — July 8, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

  7. Tom–thanks for sharing your thoughts–always good to hear candid feedback.

    Eric–thought I would chime in on your question re: device-agnostic services.

    In the interest of full disclosure, we are a new provider of such services…..

    Eragy has taken a hardware-agnostic approach and provides a couple of options for consumers and professionals to take advantage of real-time energy monitoring (and active energy management in the future).

    In short, our free service (beta) acts a Google PowerMeter replacement and our pro service is designed for professional contractors and other service providers who plan to install & provision large numbers of internet-enabled power sensors.

    We’ve tried to tackle a couple of the hard problems — one of which is supporting the myriad of utility rates that exist. Our users simply choose their utility rate plan and we perform all the “heavy lifting” and provide cost estimates based on your actual rate structure (which can get pretty complicated, especially in California!)

    We look forward to filling the void left by Microsoft and Google and helping the industry move forward!

    Comment by Mark Komanecky — July 8, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

  8. I have had a TED, Blueline and Wattvision. Have to echo Tom’s thoughts. I have started using a slick interface that works with the TED and Blueline http://peoplepowerco.com/mobile/ Great mobile solution. Wattvision.com is the easiest to install and has a very clean web interface and UI/UX.

    Comment by David — July 8, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

  9. i Tom and Eric,

    I would like to agree with Peter here, that thanks to companies like Google and Microsoft, the credibility and valuation of the Energy Efficiency and Monitoring increased several folds. Google or Microsoft never declared that Powermeter or Hohm was complete failure. They just never invested more time or money into it beyond basic prototyping stage.

    I have used both TED and BlueLine Devices. TED was one of the first one to attempt energy monitoring and to be honest they did a pretty good job once you get it set-up. BlueLine Innovations did make life a lot easier for people to to access their Energy data without a need for an electrician or network engineer to set-up the device. BlueLine also launched a WiFi Monitor making the set-up further easier.

    We must not forget that these companies are developing innovative hardware for measuring energy usage without any physical connection or probing into the circuit. As with any research, they will come up much better and efficient solutions in the future.

    In the interest of full Disclosure – We recently launched our Energy Management and Control devices/services which support both BlueLine and TED.

    I would not call our product a replacement for Google Powermeter or Hohm as that would mean we were trying to compete. We have been developing these products parallel to PowerMeter and Hohm providing much more interactive and social way to monitor and control energy and provide tips to increase energy efficiency.

    Our Mobile Apps can be downloaded for free at http://peoplepowerco.com/apps

    We believe that Google and Microsoft did open up a door-way for us providing awareness and visibility in the market among people interested in energy management and efficiency. “

    Comment by SPalan — July 11, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

  10. While Google PowerMeter and Microsoft Hohm may have discontinued, there are several alternatives from small players popping up. The free service from myEnerSave (www.myEnerSave.com) is another one in the pack. It not only displays the real time power, is compatible with TED, Wattvision and more monitors coming up soon, but also handles complex utility rates like MyEragy.

    Something more than above – MyEnerSave service even breaks down your power consumption into individual appliances – therefore making smart personalized recommendations (well – the recommendations part is coming up soon) after finding how much you are spending on each appliance category. As a paper co-authored by us with Stanford, the disaggregation of whole power into individual loads is going to be the holy grail of Energy Efficiency in the residential world – primary reason being that residential world will never invest heavily in plug level monitors due to cost reasons.

    We are all waiting for the day when utilities start sending the Smart Meter data directly to our homes and we can do much more than what they show currently on their web sites (2-day old, 1 hour granularity data). But, till then, thanks to TED, Blueline, Wattvision, and Current Cost, at least the interested users have some options to choose from.

    Comment by Abhay Gupta — July 26, 2011 @ 1:11 am

  11. I have the TED 5000, I bought it only because of Google Power Meter. I have to say I am pretty upset about Google shutting it down. I have had it since Nov 2010 and couldn’t even get a full years worth of data to compare last year to this year.

    I do have to say, I could not agree more about problems with TED. I went through 2 faulty devices, and the third one I finally fixed myself. I opened it to find a resistor crushed by a piece of scrap metal lodged between the case and the resistor. It probably broke it when they tightened the screws. They have very bad quality control, and even worse customer support.

    They never follow up to phone calls or e-mails. They keep insisting that their devise won’t work because of line noise in my house when it was their equipment that was bad. I finally had a dedicated line installed with its own filter just for the TED gateway. Not possible for their to be any line noise on that line and they still had an excuse. It was after that that I opened it myself, found the broken resister, soldered in a new one, and it works perfectly now.

    After the first one arrived broken, it took the threat of disputing the credit card charge to get them to even respond to me. Its very sad that they run their company that way.

    Well after spending $240 on the TED and $300 on an electrician, I was very excited to have Google Power meter up and running. And now its getting taken away.

    Comment by Michael Schulman — September 12, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

  12. Michael, to salvage your TED post-Powermeter, take a look at some of the alternatives here: http://www.theenergydetective.com/google

    Comment by Eric — September 12, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

  13. Gents — I know the TED pretty intimately. Any salvage effort, especially by the TEDsters, is an exercise in futility.

    (Oh sure, you may say that I sound like a vitriolic, bitter, wizened old man, but I assert: I am not wizened!)

    No, really, to be calm for a moment, the TED is fine if it still works for you — and if you’re not ready to plunk down your next $250 on products that actually work (BlueLine’s PowerCost Monitor, Wattvision) you could probably cobble something together for now.

    Although, the landscape has changed with the recent announcement of PlotWatt and BlueLine’s WiFi solution — this is a good and practical solution. I have used both products and know that the two together are something way more. I actually did my PlotWatt beta test using the TED (until it met its demise when a butterfly flapped its wings too hard) — PlotWatt is very cool and smart, and integrated with BlueLine now to get appliance-level monitoring that you would pay (a lot) more for, at the same price as the BlueLine and WiFi bits.

    Worth considering…

    Tom

    Comment by Tom Harrison — September 12, 2011 @ 7:49 pm

  14. That was very well written and thanks very much for the info! I’ve been searching for quite some time but it’s hard to find quality content. Keep up the good work!

    Comment by Wesley Evans — November 27, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

  15. Hey folks, as i know Google or Microsoft never declared that Powermeter or Hohm was complete failure. They just never invested more time or money into it beyond basic prototyping stage.

    Comment by siltnamiai — April 11, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

  16. Not quite the same, but since I always wished PowerMeter & Hohm had a social angle, you might check out http://social.opower.com

    It’s monthly granularity but you get to compare your use to others, which I find fun. Especially since I usually win. ;)

    Comment by Eric — April 11, 2012 @ 3:23 pm

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    Pingback by So Long Google PowerMeter | mapawatt — July 22, 2012 @ 5:58 pm

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    Pingback by So Long Microsoft Hohm | mapawatt — July 22, 2012 @ 6:02 pm

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