By Jeff St. John
Enel (EN), Italy's primary utility, is looking to Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) PowerMeter in a home energy management pilot project. If the project goes through, it would provide the largest test bed yet for the internet search giant's foray into helping homeowners save energy.
The project will involve linking smart meter enabled homes to Google's Web-based energy portal, Livio Gallo, head of Enel's Domestic Infrastructure and Networks Division, said Monday at the GridWeek conference in Washington, D.C.
While Gallo didn't specify how many homes the pilot project would involve, Enel has about 30 million smart meters in the field, more than any utility in the world. That could give Google a big opening, if Enel likes what it has to offer. Other partners on the pilot project will include Telecom Italia and Electrolux, Gallo said.
That adds a second European utility to the list of partners Google has garnered for PowerMeter. In June, German utility Yellostrom said it was using PowerMeter to show energy usage to about 1.4 million customers with smart metes enabled with Microsoft technology (see Green Light post).
Google also has eight U.S. and Canadian utilities working with PowerMeter, including some with big smart meter plans like San Diego Gas & Electric, as well as North American smart meter market leader Itron (see Google Names Itron Utilities as PowerMeter Partners).
But Enel – which has networked its smart meters using power line carrier technology from San Jose, Calif.-based Echelon Corp. – has more smart meters now in the field than those eight utilities combined. And for the most party, Enel's smart meters don't have an avenue into people's perception of how much energy they use.
While Enel is saving up to 500 million Euros per year with its smart meter network (which cost about 2.2 billion Euros to install), those savings have come not from giving homeowners and apartment dwellers more information, but rather from utility-side improvements, like better voltage and frequency control (see Notes From a National Smart Grid Experiment).
Smart meters offer their biggest up-front savings, in fact, from allowing utilities to stop paying workers to go read meters in person. But almost every smart meter deployment is aimed at someday linking customers' air conditioners, appliances and other load sources to measurement and control, whether under customer control, utility control, or a combination of both (see Green Light post and stories here, here, here and here for some recent developments).
A host of startups – Tendril, Greenbox, Control4, AlertMe, OpenPeak, and dozens of others – are in the field. So is Microsoft, which launched a Web-based platform called Hohm similar to Google's in June and has four utilities as named partners so far (see Microsoft Launches Home Energy Site, Sees Devices, Demand Management in Future).
As for Google, it has said it's making a display for homeowners, not the devices that actually track and control energy use. For that task, it's looking to its utility partners and startups alike, and wants to open it to applications from independent developers as well (see Lu's Google PowerMeter Update: Open API's, More Partners Soon).