Collin Cole comments on the two giant tech companies pulling the plug on their energy consumption reading programs.
Last week marked a setback for consumers looking to track and manage their home energy consumption. In 2009, Microsoft and Google launched services aimed at the nascent consumer home energy market. The two tech giants were looking to be the first to establish platforms for the anticipated wave of home energy management products. But in simple statements just days apart, both said that the services would be discontinued due to low adoption rates. How quickly they pulled the plug is disappointing, but speaks volumes about the challenge of innovating in the energy industry.
Google Powermeter allowed users to track their personal energy consumption. Designed as an open system, Google had been steadily forming Powermeter partnerships with hardware and software companies, such as the TED, Current Cost, and the UK’s AlertMe, smart electric meter manufacturers, and a number of prominent utility companies.
Microsoft Hohm was a web-based application that allowed users to monitor and analyze their energy consumption, and included a blog with energy-saving recommendations. Hohm created a rating system called a “Hohm Score,” which rated your home’s energy efficiency.
Both companies have claimed that these services were simply ahead of their time. Both voiced their long term commitment to green energy practices and future platforms.
What’s really behind these decisions? With Google pulling out first, it took the pressure off for Microsoft to keep Hohm afloat. Say what you want about Microsoft, but both tech companies know the importance of getting products to market quickly. In contrast, the energy industry is built on century-old technologies and complex physical infrastructure—power plants, point-to-point transport using ships and trains, substations and distribution lines to cities and homes, not to mention the tangled bureaucracy of federal, state, and municipal governments with a mix of regulated and deregulated service areas. It’s likely that both companies discovered that the energy industry operates on a geological timescale where fast-paced innovation is a foreign concept, and simply decided to get the hell out.
The lack of first-mover technology investments and large-scale competition is a huge loss. If two of the largest, deep pocketed tech companies pulled out after only two years, what does this say about the near term future of green energy products? What will happen to product companies hoping to build (or that have already built) on top of these platforms? Without a broad platform that connects products, services, and utility companies, there isn’t a viable ecosystem for true energy management at the consumer level.
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[Written by Collin Cole. Main image elements copyrighted by Michael McCauslin, courtesy of Creative Commons. Reprinted with kind permission from design mind, a publication of global innovation firm frog.]
design mind is a publication of global innovation firm frog that is updated daily to keep the design and innovation community updated with fresh perspectives on industry trends, emerging technologies, and global consumer culture. Learn more about design mind and frog.
Reprinted with kind permission from design mind, a publication of frog.
Collin Cole is the co-founder of frog design’s media group and the senior vice president of frog’s Design Realization group. He works closely with the design and engineering teams to bring innovative ideas to the market. Learn more about Collin Cole.