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Microsoft Launches Hohm, Enters Home Energy Management Business

microsofthohmDesigned to help consumers lower their energy bills and reduce their impact on the environment, Microsoft Corp. has unveiled a new online application, Microsoft Hohm, that enables consumers to better understand their energy usage and get recommendations for energy savings. The beta application is available at no cost to anyone in the United States with an Internet connection.

Microsoft Hohm uses advanced analytics licensed from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy to provide consumers with personalized energy-saving recommendations. Recommendations can range from placing new caulking on windows to removing air leaks to installing a programmable thermostat.

These recommendations are tailored based on specific circumstances in the consumer’s home including house features, usage patterns and appliances. The savings will vary based on the information shared and the characteristics of consumers’ households. If consumers don’t provide their data, recommendations will be based on local and national averages.

Microsoft reports that 80 percent of U.S. consumers would participate in an energy program if it were offered by providers, according to a May 2009 utility consumer survey from Gartner Inc. (conducted with households in the U.S. and U.K.). Data also showed that cost reduction is the key driving force behind participating in an energy efficiency program.

Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds told CNET News that the biggest hurdle when it comes to cutting energy consumption may be apathy. He said in the article that even when gas prices tripled, most Americans chose to pay more rather than change their energy use.

Microsoft Hohm is built on the Windows Azure cloud operating system (OS) introduced last year and leverages Bing search as well as the Microsoft Advertising platform.

Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft, told CNET News that Microsoft started with the residential market because it accounts for $160 billion of the $365 billion that the U.S. spends on electricity use.

Hohm, code-named Niagara, is the culmination of about two years of work in the area, Mundie said in the article.  It’s also one of the first commercial services running on the Windows Azure OS.

Microsoft Hohm provides utilities with a scalable tool that allows them to supply their customers with detailed information about their energy consumption. A lightweight standards-based software development kit (SDK) is available for utilities interested in partnering with Microsoft Hohm.

Initial partners in the program are Puget Sound Energy, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Seattle City Light and Xcel Energy.

Microsoft is also partnering with Itron Inc. and Landis+Gyr to make it easier for utilities and consumers to automatically access granular energy consumption data. Microsoft says integration with meter data will make it easier for utilities to take full advantage of the Microsoft Hohm offerings.

There are several other companies that offer home energy management applications. In February, Google unveiled Google PowerMeter, a prototype Web application that displays home energy consumption broken down by appliance. The software requires “smart” meters that provide real-time information to both the utility and the customer.

Most recently, San Mateo, Calif.-based eMeter, a smart grid management software provider, launched its online consumer application, Energy Engage, that enables users to understand the relation between energy consumption, cost and carbon input.

Energy Engage enables utility companies to help consumers manage their home energy usage with accurate daily billing information, real-time event driven alerts to budget variations and access to local community guidance and advice. It also is expected to drive closer collaboration between consumers and utilities on reducing peak demand and increasing energy conservation.

Pilot participants with PowerCentsDC will be the first to actively manage their home energy consumption with Energy Engage. PowerCentsDC is a public-private partnership program backed by Pepco and consumer and regulatory bodies in Washington D.C. The organization is testing how much electricity consumers can save using key smart-grid technologies.

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