Google, all up in your grid
November 20, 2009 10:19 AM   Subscribe

Google is rolling out free PowerMeter software that works with the TED 5000 smart meter to transmit near real time utility usage to Google servers. This data can then be securely displayed on your Android or iPhone. With stimulus money earmarked for smart meters they will eventually become ubiquitous as standards evolve from the current patchwork.

Not only can we yell at the kids to turn off lights from work but we (meaning they) will have huge datasets of very specific and identifiable information. Meth manufacturers beware.
posted by cedar (29 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
In fairness to the competitors, Microsoft has Hohm which is basically the same thing.
posted by GuyZero at 10:32 AM on November 20, 2009


Meth manufacturers beware.

My guess is that these guys won't install it.
posted by GuyZero at 10:32 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mefi's own DansData on power analysis to catch home marijuana growers.

I thought meth was mostly a chemical process, involving things like hotplates or gas stoves? Wouldn't that be hard to differentiate from typical power usage?
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:35 AM on November 20, 2009


The TED device is interesting, it took me a while when I originally looked at it to figure out what it does. Essentially you put the monitoring device into your breaker box where it measures the power flow through your main power lines. Then you take one lead from the TED device and connect it to one of your home's breakers (doesn't matter which one). It uses a data-over-AC-power protocol to feed real-time statistics of power consumption to a different TED box that you plug in to a power outlet, which you can then plug in via USB to your computer or ethernet into your network. You then regularly push the data to Google PowerMeter, either from the box (I would assume, once configured) or from an app on your computer.
posted by jeffkramer at 10:36 AM on November 20, 2009


This is exciting. I spent a lot of time in my new house trying to figure out where all the damn electricity was going. (Answer? The lights, surprisingly. Also the wine cellar cooler, unsurprisingly). The current tools for doing this are really awkward, the best I could do was a handheld monitor that couldn't upload data to anything.

The installation of the TED monitor is just a bit too complicated for me. The real win will be when the various smart meter initiatives open up and give their data to Google on the consumer's request.
posted by Nelson at 10:37 AM on November 20, 2009


As an aside, I wish Austin Energy would get their act together and give me access to the data sitting in the 'smart meter' right outside my window, but I'm guessing that if I want that to happen before the zombie apocalypse I'm going to have to shell out $200 for a TED device and wire it up myself.
posted by jeffkramer at 10:37 AM on November 20, 2009




I will now know when the cats fire up the hot-tub.
posted by HuronBob at 10:44 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


The installation of the TED monitor is just a bit too complicated for me. The real win will be when the various smart meter initiatives open up and give their data to Google on the consumer's request.

This is what caught my eye more than anything else. We have been so slow adopting standards and the utility companies so reluctant to give up 'their' data that these initiatives are stalled. I have a relative who works for NYSERDA where millions in grant money, money just for initiatives such as this, languishes because the application process is fundamentally flawed.

Maybe between the federal money and some Google juice the private sector can get something going empowering energy consumers to make informed decisions. There's a big ass market here once the tech gets a little more accessible and I don't know of anyone likelier to make that happen than Google.
posted by cedar at 10:47 AM on November 20, 2009


WOW does this appeal to me as a numbers-junkie.

Of course, the base unit costs $200 and only monitors your total (and as far as I can tell, it would cost another $240 to get an additional three channels for the max of four). Oh yeah, and it has a max of four channels. So that kinda makes me hesitate to drop $500 just so I can know something I can already measure (with a $30 Kill-A-Watt meter) in finer detail.

Personally, I'd like to see a variant on this that has the form factor of the circuit breakers themselves, so no wiring necessary... Just plug it in, and bam, realtime per-circuit monitoring.

But still, pretty cool. If this showed up under the solstice bush, I wouldn't complain. :)
posted by pla at 10:58 AM on November 20, 2009


With all of the computers, birds, fishtanks, fishtank lights, and other assorted electricity eaters in my house, I would think I'd be thrilled about the idea of being able to track this kind of thing real-time and remotely.

But for whatever weird reason, I feel like its a letter from someone I don't want to correspond with, and I'd rather just let it sit unopened for another day.
posted by quin at 11:35 AM on November 20, 2009


Personally, I'd like to see a variant on this that has the form factor of the circuit breakers themselves, so no wiring necessary... Just plug it in, and bam, realtime per-circuit monitoring.

How awesome that would be.

I mean, I don't really need to send the data to google, but a per room chart of the power usage in my house?
Awesome.
Totally pointless, but awesome.
posted by madajb at 11:47 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


The economics of this, at least the UK version, don't support its use (yet). If you are someone who is concerned about energy consumption you have probably already picked all the low hanging energy saving fruit and thus won't get anywhere near the calculated average savings. So the cost of the device and the monthly service charges will wipe out almost all of the potential savings.

So all you are left with is paying a fee to feel good about being environmentally conscious. Much like your Guardian subscription.
posted by srboisvert at 11:58 AM on November 20, 2009


It would be nice if this could be combined with some sort of smart outlet so you could break down usage by outlet/appliance and have the device at the breaker box collect the data and send it on.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:58 AM on November 20, 2009


I mean, I don't really need to send the data to google, but a per room chart of the power usage in my house?
Awesome.
Totally pointless, but awesome.


FTFY

If you are someone who is concerned about energy consumption you have probably already picked all the low hanging energy saving fruit...

False. This is like arguing against speedometers by saying "if you are someone who is concerned about speeding, you have probably already clocked yourself in your car once".

1) Not everyone who is concerned has the time/knowledge to check all their devices.
2) Even those with the time and knowledge to do it once don't necessary check and recheck periodically for things like silently malfunctioning devices, uncleaned fridge radiators, new habits, etc.

If you get a graph, you get everything done for you automatically and on an ongoing basis.
posted by DU at 12:12 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


So all you are left with is paying a fee to feel good about being environmentally conscious. Much like your Guardian subscription.

Is this really the case?

I have to admit not reading the fine print but with the web server in the meter and the Google software being free wouldn't this work through my existing broadband connection? In my case, at least, the only additional expense would be the hardware.

I've gotten the low-hanging fruit but would be interested in tracking usage with a little more precision than the utility company now provides. I'm more curious about any patterns that might establish themselves than about how much energy a particular item/room is using.
posted by cedar at 12:12 PM on November 20, 2009


Hm. All our mail, all our data, operating systems, phones, power utilities...

Where's the scorecard on Google becoming Skynet?
posted by rokusan at 12:34 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was just about to post something similar - Google Powermeter was one of the big hits at a human behavior & energy conference last week.

The history of in-home energy saving gadgets is pretty patchy. For example, the EPA was going to recall their Energy Star endorsement of programmable home thermostats, and have only recently tried to rush out a version 2.0 specification (which is open for public comment). The reasons?

1) People didn't program their daily schedule
2) Even when people did program a daily schedule, the savings were offset by people no longer telling the thermostat when they were leaving on vacation, etc.

In the new revised specification, they're trying to mandate that thermostats be more usable... by specifying mandatory buttons and backlight display timeouts (no kidding!).

It's interesting to see problems that have plagued industrial systems for years making their appearance in the consumer market.
posted by anthill at 1:11 PM on November 20, 2009


We've been able to get our time of use data online from Toronto Hydro's smart meter system for some months. The data will be available through Google soon enough.

I'd really like my smart meter to be inside, where I can see what I'm using.
posted by scruss at 2:15 PM on November 20, 2009


Pretty sure there's some sort of smart meter going on for the building I live in, PGE began rollouts a while back and this whole area downtown was definitely hit. I am curious how this normally works for buildings with hundreds of tenants — one smart meter for the whole building, or for every unit? Certainly nothing fancy looking in my fusebox, but I wouldn't expect there to be.
posted by floam at 3:40 PM on November 20, 2009


False. This is like arguing against speedometers by saying "if you are someone who is concerned about speeding, you have probably already clocked yourself in your car once".

1) Not everyone who is concerned has the time/knowledge to check all their devices.
2) Even those with the time and knowledge to do it once don't necessary check and recheck periodically for things like silently malfunctioning devices, uncleaned fridge radiators, new habits, etc.

If you get a graph, you get everything done for you automatically and on an ongoing basis.


I live in the UK and I am actually interested in this technology so as soon as this came out I ran the numbers.

Even if you are the average UK energy user it takes about 10 months to pay back the initial purchase (http://www.alertme.com/ - the UKs only self install partner charges £69.00) based on the government studies of energy savings. Then there is the £2.99 a month charge.

Studies by organizations including the government’s Energy Saving Trust have suggested such energy monitoring leads people to cut their bills by 3-15%, potentially saving the average UK household £75 a year.


As for you statements about "not everyone" well I agree. That is why I said "if you are the kind of person who is concerned about energy consumption". If you are the kind of person who can't be bothered to turn off your lights when you leave a room then you are not the concerned. But even if we accept your view that some people simply don't have the time to be rigourous what percentage cut in their energy bills could they anticipate? 15% was the high end and 3% was the low end. I don't rigorously monitor my appliance power consumption. I just turn them off at the outlet (easy to do in the UK thanks to outlet switches). Most people concerned about their power consumption already turn off things not being used. Many already switched to energy saving lights and so on. I would expect these things would all happen before someone get so concerned about consumption that they would pop £70 + £36 /year in fees (plus the systems energy consumption: £3.94 per year to run the Hub, and £1.91 per SmartPlug). Like most UK subscriptions it requires a 12 month contract or a much more expensive pay as you go price.

I'd expect my savings would be at the low end. 3% savings on my bill. At that rate the system would take about 4 years to pay for itself and the yearly savings would so small as to probably not even be worth the time investment of regularly checking the website.
posted by srboisvert at 3:46 PM on November 20, 2009


Yeah, sign me up for the breaker-by-breaker home LAN version. I'd love that too.
posted by rokusan at 4:14 PM on November 20, 2009


It needs to be read/write not just read-only.


CAP'N! The toaster canna go any faster!

Then redirect power from the water heater and the lights Mr. Scott! We must... have.. toast!
posted by GuyZero at 4:19 PM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Google apparently uninterested in open-source versions of the same basic device.

Their devices are locked in to Google's service; by definition an open source device wouldn't be. If they open up the API they eliminate the need for the service which is where they make their profit. If she wants in on that market she'll have to reverse engineer her way into it. Without stepping on their toes. She's done it before, she can do it again.
posted by scalefree at 6:22 PM on November 20, 2009


open up the API they eliminate the need for the service

Which is why Google Maps is such a resounding failure?

Also.. No, as much as I'm totally amazed at the greatness that is Lady Ada, reading that page leads me to believe her German colleague is the one who actually 'did it'. Further, how does a computer security consultant make that suggestion with a straight face? The problem of reverse engineering a 30 year old mostly analog device is completely different both technically and legally from reverse engineering a modern encrypted communication protocol.

Anyway, sure information is nice, but I have to agree that these devices are mostly just toys. Unlike smart meters on houses to bill based on time of use, which is a great thing.
posted by Chuckles at 8:47 PM on November 20, 2009


Which is why Google Maps is such a resounding failure?

Google maintains its effective monopoly on other elements of the system, namely the maps themselves & the MapReduce algorithms it uses to make storage cost-effective. You can set up premium services that take some income that would've gone to Google, but you can't use your knowledge of the API to cut them out of the picture completely by setting up an end-to-end competing service, maps & all. Microsoft is the only competitor that has the resources to cut them out of the market.
posted by scalefree at 10:01 PM on November 20, 2009


Further, how does a computer security consultant make that suggestion with a straight face?

Heh. I know exactly what she's capable of. I don't think anybody could do it as a solo project but she'd know which of our friends to turn to for help on some of the more specialized & complex pieces if she were to take it on. You're right though, the legal aspect would be a major complicating factor. I expect that would sink it, clean room procedures have such a terribly high overhead so you can prove there's a wall between the specification & design teams. I can't imagine putting up with all that.
posted by scalefree at 10:28 PM on November 20, 2009


I set up three of those standard glass-domed electric meters in my own space, near the junction box, and they separately monitor any three household circuits of my choosing. These aren't read by the power company, these are my own. All three were easily attained at surplus because they all show indications that some goofball tried to hack them to steal service. They all do work just fine, however.

The problem is I have to take reading logs and subtract to figure unit power consumption, and two, there's not enough detail in just three readings. The original idea was to be able to separate the power used for my home office for tax purposes. With automated logging per circuit I could make real decisions regarding the optimal settings for air conditioning, the cost savings of clothes-line drying, etc.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:56 PM on November 20, 2009


The problem of reverse engineering a 30 year old mostly analog device is completely different both technically and legally from reverse engineering a modern encrypted communication protocol.

BTW, I don't see anything about encryption anywhere in PowerMeter or TED 5000 docs. Am I missing something?
posted by scalefree at 12:26 AM on November 21, 2009


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