Tuesday, July 05, 2011 5:43 PM
Death of Residential EMS
Last week, Microsoft announced that it was discontinuing Hohm—an energy management application designed for residential users—“due to the slow overall market adoption of the service.” This announcement comes less than a week after Google announced it had pulled the plug on its own energy-monitoring app—PowerMeter. In both cases, the products themselves received positive feedback, but implementation fell way behind company expectations. For Microsoft, its future environmental efforts will shift, with a new focus on electric vehicle charging (via a partnership with the Ford Motor Company).
At the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel, CA, Rob Bernard, Microsoft’s chief environmental strategist, explained the decision saying, “We aren’t seeing the level of traction in home monitoring than we had hoped for, so we’re increasing our focus on EVs and making them more connected.”
Hohm and PowerMeter were both conceived as free energy management applications designed to allow consumers to track and manage their domestic energy use. While PowerMeter displayed energy use in real time, Hohm used historical energy use to generate heating and electricity efficiency tips and suggestions based on the user’s home size and type. By using a kit created by the developers of the PowerCost Monitor, Hohm users were able to use their WiFi connection to send meter data directly to their Hohm accounts. Microsoft had hoped to incorporate utility billing and other information to users in order to facilitate use and eliminate the need for manual data input by residential customers. Unfortunately, those utility partnerships never emerged, and the company decided to kill the application in order to devote their resource to other energy efficiency projects and programs.
In addition to the challenges involved in getting consumers to fill out the extensive questionnaire integral to the implementation of the Hohm app, Bernard said that lack of enthusiasm on the part of electric utilities was also to blame for Hohm’s failure to achieve widespread adoption. According to Bernard, while certain states have incentives that make energy efficiency attractive for some utilities, in many parts of the country utility income is based on “selling more kilowatt-hours.”
So what do you think? There are still many other smart-grid consumer companies manufacturing products that give consumers regular feedback on their energy use—some even include power management tools based on regional costs and tariffs—but will the utility-led trials that these products depend on for deployment hamper, more than help, their implementation? And does the very nature of this kind of product—described by Google’s green energy czar Bill Weihl as “a complicated ecosystem,” that depends upon user participation—spell its doom, at least on the residential level? What lessons can be learned from the successes and failures of these products for providers of commercial and industrial energy management products and services?