Microsoft Corp on Wednesday unveiled its Hohm website designed to help residential power consumers save money and reduce their environmental impact by conserving energy.
Microsoft has been selling technology to the energy industry for years and is now targeting the home power market as the weak economy forces consumers to find ways to save money and the government prepares to mandate the use of renewables and energy efficiency to curb carbon emissions.
Conservation is the cheapest source of energy, Troy Batterberry, product manager for Hohm, told Reuters. If consumers use less power, he said, utilities will not need to build as many new polluting power plants. Everyone saves money.
Hohm uses complicated algorithms to analyze information provided by consumers and participating utilities to help them better understand their power usage, get recommendations and save money.
Those recommendations can include replacement of a thermostat, purchase of a new refrigerator and, maybe in the future, the installation of solar panels on the roof.
Batterberry estimated consumers could save about 5 percent to 10 percent on their energy bills, depending on how many recommendations they follow.
Microsoft Hohm is available for free to all 120 million households in the United States, whether their utility is a partner or not. Microsoft is partnering with utilities and meter vendors to capture information about consumer power use.
Google Inc this year rolled out a similar program called PowerMeter, which is available to a limited group of customers served by partner utilities. Google plans to expand PowerMeter this year.
Microsoft said all meter providers, technology companies and consulting firms could be both partners and/or the competition for Hohm.
In the short term, Microsoft expects there to be potential to make money through advertising. If Hohm recommends a furnace upgrade, the site could provide a link to furnace vendors. The vendors would pay Microsoft for the ad or referral.
In the future, Microsoft hopes Hohm will make money as a scalable demand-side management tool. Demand-side management programs pay consumers to reduce power use, especially during grid emergencies and times of very high demand, like summer heat waves when air conditioning usage stretches generation.
Demand-side management can also help utilities meet renewable and efficiency goals by offsetting the intermittent nature of renewables by reducing consumption when the wind stops blowing or the sun is not shining.
To get started with Hohm, users input household information over a secure website -- www.microsoft-hohm.com -- or, if their utility is a partner, they can upload their energy usage data.
Microsoft has partnered with Xcel Energy Inc, Puget Sound Energy, Seattle City Light and Sacramento Municipal Utility District, and plans to name more partners soon.
The more information the homeowner provides the more relevant the recommendations will be. As a default, Hohm will base recommendations on local and national averages.
Microsoft has been working on Hohm, code named Niagara, for about two years. The company did not disclose how much it spent on Hohm or how much it expects to make from the venture.
In about six to nine months after receiving feedback from users and refining and improving the application, Jon Arnold, managing director of Microsoft's Worldwide Power and Utilities Industry, told Reuters, Hohm should exit the Beta version. Ultimately, Microsoft wants Hohm to go international.
(Editing by Walter Bagley)