Tag: google

Grid Watch: smartgrids meet smartcomms

New Meter

We have pointed to the ongoing convergence of wireless communications and smart grids before, for example in this video about Tropos Networks and in Tom’s stump pitch on sustainability and mobility, but some news from this week throws the trend into stark relief.

Carbon Trust investments, the VC arm of a non-profit organisation working to lower the UK’s carbon emissions just announced it is to invest in a network management company called Arieso.

Why would Carbon Trust do that? After all, what does mobile network optimisation have to do with energy management? According to the newenergyworldnetwork story:

Rachael Nutter of CT Investment Partners said, ‘Energy consumption in mobile phone base stations is a significant proportion of the opex of mobile operators, as high as 50 per cent in the most extreme cases.

That’s the thing about sustainability – it doesn’t need to be seen as a cost center… rather it can, and should be, part of optimisation activities. Lower carbon, lower energy, cheaper mobile roll-outs. What’s not to like?

If you’ve been following GreenMonk for a while you should know we’re wedded to bottom up sustainability approaches – “from the roots up” as we call it, which is one reason we’ve sponsored, and contributed to the awesome UK HomeCamp community, founded by Chris Dalby, who now works at UK smartmeter firm Current Cost. Seems things are moving along there too.

One of the key players attempting to drive home automation as an activity for “civilians” is ZigBee. It just started working with GreenPeak, which specialises in ultra low power mobile silicon chips, designed to be used in battery-free devices. [See a theme emerging? ;-) ] No batteries isn’t just a lower carbon play though- it also means less heavy metals and toxic chemicals. What’s the news? GreenPeak is now Zigbee compliant.

Finally some smart grid news.

Swiss smart meter player just took $165m in new funding.

Could be smart timing.

The Climate Group, sponsored by GE, Google, HP, Intel, Nokia and others  just called on Barack Obama to adopt a goal of providing every household with real time information about their electricity use.

Meanwhile last week Microsoft hohm and Ford announced they are working together on home energy to Electric Vehicle management and integration, to help people that own these EVs charge them cost effectively. Its worth pointing to one of my favourite GreenMonk interviews in that light- we talk to Greg Frenette of Ford about EV smart grid convergence.

It really is time to run the first HomeCamp US!

Ironically enough, when I searched for a creativecommons attribution only shot of a smartmeter i found one from my colleague Michael Coté in Austin. His utility called it a smartmeter, but unless he  has access to the data generated I don’t see how it deserves the name. But that’s a subject for a different blog, and indeed a line of Greenmonk research.

The really keen eyed among you may have noticed how many of the links above come from newnet news. No accident. I love the feed. Its like a shot of good news tequila every morning – something to warm your spirits.

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Can Apple make Home Energy Management sexy?

Apple iPad

Will Apple move into home energy management, and if they do, can they make it sexy and front-of-mind for everyone?

I made this point in a reply to a post earlier on the IBM Global Eco Jam and I thought it could well do with being fleshed out to a full post here to see what others think.

In case you were hiding under a rock yesterday, to tremendous fanfare and hype, Apple launched their latest device, the iPad.

The extremely desirable tablet-like iPad is aimed squarely at the home user market, what with its base price of $499, its beautiful form-factor and its concentration on music, video, games, etc.

While you probably did hear about the iPad, you may not be aware that Apple has lodged a patent application for a Home Energy Management system, joining Google’s PowerMeter and Microsoft’s Hohm.

Apple’s application talks of using powerline communications to control appliances’ energy consumption around the house.

Unlike Google and Microsoft though, Apple have an amazing track record of making sexy devices/applications. If there is anyone who can make home energy management sexy, it would be Apple software running on the iPad.

Let’s hope they make it so – what are the chances?

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How long until all devices which consume water have networked flow meters?

atr
Photo credit bmitchellw

Oracle published the results of a very interesting study recently called Testing the Water: Smart Metering for Water Utilities.

Now, we have all heard about the compelling case for Smart Meters for electrical consumption (I have written and spoken about it extensively) but in this study Oracle asked utilities and their customers about the benefits of rolling out Smart Meters for managing water consumption.

Part of the reason for undertaking this study was that water shortages are already being seen in the South East United States, Western Canada, and Southern California.

In fact, according to the EPA’s WaterSense site:

  • At least 36 states are projecting water shortages between now and 2013.
  • Each American uses an average of 100 gallons of water a day at home.
  • Approximately 5 to 10 percent of American homes have water leaks that drip away 90 gallons a day or more! Many of these leaks reside in old fixtures such as leaky toilets and faucets. If the 5 percent of American homes that leak the most corrected those leaks—it could save more than 177 billion gallons of water annually!
  • The average [US] household spends as much as $500 per year on their water and sewer bill and can save about $170 per year by installing water-efficient fixtures and appliances.

Some of the results of the Oracle water study show that:

  • 68% of water utility managers believe it is critical that water utilities adopt smart meter technologies
  • 76% of consumers are concerned about the need to conserve water in their community
  • 69% of consumers believe they could reduce their personal water use
  • 71% of consumers believe receiving more detailed information on their water consumption would encourage them to take steps to lower their water use
  • 83% of water utilities who have completed a cost- benefit analysis support the adoption of smart meter technology

So, the public is concerned about water conservation and believes that more information would help them reduce their consumption of water. The majority of utility managers also believe smart meter technologies are critical, so things are looking rosy so far.

The data output from smart electricity meters is extremely granular and yields very specific energy footprints. With this data it is trivial to identify the devices using the energy down to make and model of the machine. However, this is not the case for smart water meters. Their output is far less granular – it will be quite difficult to map water consumption data from smart meters to individual devices within the house (unless there are flow meters attached to all the devices using water, for example).

What if though, you could tie-in the output of your electrical smart meter and your water smart meters? Analysing the data from the two meters it should be possible to identify at least some of the devices using water (fridge, dish washer, electric shower, etc.). Having this information tied-in to make and model of device would be extremely useful to help identify more water efficient appliances.

Because, for the most part, your water and electricity utilities are separate companies (or different business units within a utility), this is not a solution they are likely to pursue. However, there has been a surge in the number of 3rd party companies working on Home Management Software applications/devices.

Most recently we’ve seen that Apple are looking into the home energy management space, but others big names already involved include Google, Microsoft, Intel and Panasonic to name but a few.

With consumer’s actively interested in receiving more information about their energy and water usage and with the value that this data has, it is a no-brainer that Home Management Software will manage water consumption as well as energy in time.

How long before it is mandatory that all devices which consume water have networked flow meters and all homes have smart water meters?

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Google Energy to start disrupting the utility industry?

Google and renewables logo

Google Energy

Photo credit filippo minelli

There is no doubt about it but Google is a disruptive company.

First Google disrupted search, then advertising, then video (with their acquisition of YouTube), and then Office applications with the launch and continued development of Google Apps for Domains. Most recently Google has disrupted the mobile phone industry, first with the launch of their Android operating system and just a couple of days ago with the launch of their Nexus One mobile phone.

What then should we make of Google’s recent creation of a subsidiary called Google Energy LLC and Google Energy’s request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to buy and sell electricity on the wholesale market [PDF]?

Given Google has already invested in solar power generation, given further that Google has invested in wind and geothermal power generation technologies (as part of its RE < C project), and given that Google has already launched its first product in the Smart Grid space, Google PowerMeter, should we now expect Google to start disrupting the utility industry as well?

Curious about what all this meant I contacted Google spokesperson Niki Fenwick to try to get some answers – see my questions and her responses below:

TR: What was the thinking behind Google’s setting up Google Energy? Why is Google applying to the FERC for permission to trade in electricity?

NF: Google is interested in procuring more renewable energy as part of our carbon neutrality commitment, and the ability to buy and sell energy on the wholesale market could give us more flexibility in doing so. We made this filing so we can have more flexibility in procuring power for Google’s own operations, including our data centers.

TR: Google has made some investments in renewable generation (solar, geothermal and wind), does Google hope to take on the utilities by selling electricity? How does this tie into Google’s PowerMeter project?

NF: This move does not signal our intent to operate as a retail provider and is not related to our free Google PowerMeter home energy monitoring software. We simply want to have the flexibility to explore various renewable energy purchase and sale agreements (that means we can buy electricity wholesale, rather than through a utility).

TR: Will Google Energy be used to develop more Smart Grid products?

NF: We don’t have any plans to announce at this time.

TR: How does this tie into Google’s partnership with GE?

NF: This move isn’t related to our partnership with GE.

So there you have it, according to Google this application to trade in electricity on the wholesale market is simply to gain more flexibility in procuring power for Google’s own operations, as part of Google’s carbon neutrality commitment.

Google have no plans to become a retail electricity provider.

For now. Things change.

After all, it is not so long ago that Google were denying rumours that they were developing a Google phone!

Related articles:

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There’s gold in them thar bills!

Graph of power consumption
Photo credit Urban Jacksonville

The output from smart meters is incredibly granular. Far more so than is obvious from the smart meter output graph above.

In conversations with Dr Monica Sturm (Director of Siemen’s Center of Competence, Metering Services) last November (2008) she confirmed to me that it is possible to identify individual devices in someone’s home down to make, model and year of manufacture by looking at their energy profile – the output of their smart meter.

This kind of information is absolute gold and don’t think the utility companies aren’t starting to wake up to the fact. They are, and they are not alone. Why else do you think Google have jumped into this space with their PowerMeter offering. Not to be outdone, Microsoft have also stepped in with their Hohm product.

It won’t be long before Apple joins the fray with a sleekier, sexier iHome application!

For the utilities themselves, there are data protection issues to be worked through but once they are (and they will be), the utilities will use this data to help make up for the earnings lost as customers become more energy efficient (consuming less expensive energy).

One revenue model you will start to see emerge is utility companies selling appliances (and possibly even cars!). How will it work?

Because the utility company will have full visibility of our energy consumption, they will see when your devices are inefficient/faulty. I can very easily envisage receiving a communication from my utility company in the not-too-distant future along the lines of:

Dear Mr Raftery (actually, as I am based in Spain it would be more likely to be Estimado Sr. Raftery but let’s stick with the English version),

We notice from your energy profile that you own a 2004 Indesit BAN12NFS fridge freezer. Our records show that in the last 3 months the compressor in that freezer has become much less efficient and it is now costing you €25 a month just to run that one appliance.

We have partnerships with service companies who could try to repair the compressor in that fridge freezer for you, or alternatively, we have a special offer this month on new energy efficient fridge freezers.

We can have a brand new fridge freezer installed in your home before the end of the week. We can take away your old one for responsible disposition. And all this will won’t cost you a penny, in fact it will save you €10* per month off your current bill!

So, to summerize, if you call our hotline now on 555-123 4567 you can save €10 off your monthly bill, have a brand new fridge-freezer installed free and reduce your CO2 emissions by 12kg a year.

What are you waiting for?

*We charge you €15 per month for the new fridge thus saving you €10 per month off your current bill. Terms and conditions apply.

That’s just one possible scenario of how the utility companies will make use of smart meter data to generate alternative revenue streams for themselves – can you think of others?

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OpenOffice 3.0 Beta launched

OpenOffice 3 Beta

OpenOffice, the free opensource office suite, released OpenOffice 3.0 Beta yesterday. This latest release now runs on Mac OS X without requiring X11 to be running as well. And there are versions for Windows and Linux obviously.

There are a host of new features like ODF Support, Office 2007/8 import/export and support for up to 1024 columns on the spreadsheet app to name but a few.

With the killer combination of Google Docs (Google’s great hosted office app), OpenOffice and OOo2GD (an app to synch between OpenOffice and Google Docs), the justification for spending any amount of money on Office software has just disappeared!

There is also a large number of extensions available for OpenOffice. Everything from template packs, through to report builders and Wiki writers!

Download it, try it out. If you are worried that it will be a big change in UI from Microsoft Office – wait until you see the Office 2007 UI!!! And did I mention OpenOffice is free?

Enterprise wikis reviewed update

Things move fast in the Web 2.0 world! Only a couple of weeks back I wrote a review of Enterprise Wiki software in which I mentioned PBWiki and Socialtext amongst others.

I like Socialtext and would have recommended it had PBWiki not just shipped its new interface. The PBWiki interface is friendlier and easier to get around for non-techies so I went for that.

Now today I see two posts mentioning that a new version of SocialText is en route which will make SocialText a much more compelling enterprise app.

Socialtext is adding Socialtext Dashboard and Socialtext People. From Michael Arrington’s post:

SocialText Dashboard, pictured above, is a Netvibes-like customizable home page. Users can add SocialText widgets that show information from the company’s wiki – total edits, a list of workspaces, change summaries, etc. Other widgets are for productivity, like a calendar, or just for fun, like a YouTube widget.

All Dashboard widgets are Google Widget compatible, which means that, subject to security settings, they can also be added to sites like iGoogle. But more importantly, all iGoogle widgets can also be added to the Dashboard page. So you can, for example, pull Gmail directly into your SocialText Dashboard.

While in Socialtext People, users can create profiles and add “friends” within the organization. You can monitor the activity stream of mutual friends as well, which includes outside services such as Twitter. And as Rafe Needleman points out in his post:

You can tag yourself “M&A” if you’re in business development. Others can tag you, too. Then, if you’re looking for someone with a particular skill or hobby, you just search on tags. Tags are easier to update, and because of that you’re more likely to see good information in individuals’ tag clouds, compared to a bunch of form fields that no one wants to bother with. Of course, tag clouds and folksonomies are also less rigorous than straight data fields, but you know what they say: They make it up in volume.

So, if you haven’t rushed out after my last post and dived into PBWiki, you might want to think again about SocialText. It just keeps getting better and better.

iPhone and iPod Touch leading to huge increase in mobile web browsing

Two stories being reported today point to how Apple got it right with the iPhone/iPod Touch.

In the first story, coming out of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, EE Times is reporting that:

A blue-ribbon panel of human behavior and technology experts at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain agreed that the best recent advance in the mobile telecommunications user space came not from a mobile telecom company but from Apple Inc. — the iPhone.

Anup Murarka, director of technical marketing for Adobe, cited a study showing that 77 percent of iPhone purchasers described themselves as “very satisfied” with their user experience

Going even further than that, AppleInsider today published a story about how Google said it has seen

50 times more search requests coming from Apple iPhones than any other mobile handset — a revelation so astonishing that the company originally suspected it had made an error culling its own data

So despite the fact that the iPhone is only on sale in 4 countries and is significantly outsold by Nokia et al handsets, the vast majority to Google from mobile devides is from the iPhone.

Why is this? Because Apple made it easy to do. Not only that, they made it a fun experience (turn the device, the page reformats to the new orientation, two finger zoom, etc.).

The iPhone/iPod Touch user experience is so far ahead of anything the competition (Symbian, Windows Mobile) are producing that it will take them several years to catch up. If, in the meantime, Apple can add features like Bluetooth, and 3G and sign deals with more mobile operators they have a strong chance of becoming the dominant handset manufacturer as well as the dominant mp3 player.

OpenSocial signs up MySpace and SixApart too!

I mentioned earlier in the week that Google was about to launch OpenSocial, a Social Network API platform. Since then Mike Arrington in TechCrunch is reporting that not only is it happenning but MySpace, Bebo and SixApart are on board too!

The OpenSocial site is now live and confirmed participants so far are:

Engage.com, Friendster, hi5, Hyves, imeem, LinkedIn, Ning, Oracle, orkut, Plaxo, Salesforce.com, Six Apart, Tianji, Viadeo, and XING

Why OpenSocial?

The web is more interesting when you can build apps that easily interact with your friends and colleagues. But with the trend towards more social applications also comes a growing list of site-specific APIs that developers must learn.

OpenSocial provides a common set of APIs for social applications across multiple websites. With standard JavaScript and HTML, developers can create apps that access a social network’s friends and update feeds.

Many sites, one API

Whither FaceBook, the current social network colossus in this? They and Microsoft (their recent investor) have got to be wondering how to meet this challenge to their dominant position. Probably the best approach would be to jump in too – that way they have all the advantages of the open platform without the development costs. Google are saying it is an open platform and they wouldn’t see that one coming!

The chances are though that they won’t jump on board and there will be two social network standards, Google’s OpenSocial standard and FaceBook’s.

Microsoft buys 1.6% of FaceBook for $240m

The New York Times is reporting this morning that Microsoft has bought a 1.6% stake in Facebook for $240m, this values the company at $15bn.

This values Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 23 year old founder at $3bn and Accel Partners, the venture capital firm that invested $12.7 million in May 2005 now owns 11 percent of Facebook stock worth a cool $1.65 billion.

The deal must be a huge relief for Microsoft after the stories circulating yesterday that Google were about to beat them to the post (pun intended!) in buying a piece of Facebook.

This is a dream deal for Facebook as they yield only 1.6% of the company and still manage to scoop $240m.

What is in it for Microsoft? Well, on the one hand, as the New York Times reports:

As part of the deal, Microsoft will sell the banner ads appearing on Facebook outside of the United States, splitting the revenue with it. Last year, Microsoft struck a deal with Facebook to run banner ads on the site in the United States through 2011.

but, probably equally importantly, Microsoft has stymied Google’s plans to own advertising rights on Facebook.

Is Facebook really worth $15bn? Who knows. A company is worth as much as a buyer is willing to pay for it. Today, for whatever reason it is worth $15bn to Microsoft. Who knows what it will be worth next week.