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Climate Change

Google: Pioneering Residential Energy Efficiency

By Nathan Venos

It’s time for America to get smart on residential energy use. The sector accounts for approximately 17 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it crucial to the United States’ efforts to preserve energy resources and curb climate change. And the impacts could be enormous; for every 1% reduction in the average America’s residential energy usage, 11 million metric tons of CO2 eq. is avoided.

Web-based energy-service platforms present the greatest opportunity to capitalize on the greatest energy savings, and one company is about to revolutionize residential energy use.

The Google Advantage

Imagine purchasing a plane ticket and immediately being prompted to accept or deny scheduling your home into a state of hibernation based on your flight times. How about de-energizing you home when your phone’s GPS senses that you’ve pulled out of your driveway?

This kind of convenience, which Google can provide through Gmail, Google+, smartphone apps, and other media will provide Americans with energy management solutions that they can integrate into everyday life without added cost or inconvenience.

This is because Google is uniquely positioned among providers within American households to expand their services to include effective and easy-to-use energy management. With 60% of Americans as existing Google account holders, the company’s transition into this market risks no loss of convenience, an essential aspect of customer engagement.

Google also stands to leverage their role in designing and providing American smartphones and Internet platforms, which can incentivize their consumers to optimize their energy usage. Google’s omnipresence in American lives provides them with insights into how consumers use energy in individual residences, and what solutions are available to us to save some of that energy.

Google also has the investment capital and software development capacity to develop a robust suite of software tools to engage customers, teach them to understand their energy use and actively reduce it.

Innovating Smart Hardware


Nest founders Matt Rogers (left) and Tony Fadell (right) with Google CEO Larry Page (center).
Image Credit: Nest

Google’s recent acquisition of Nest Labs — makers of Internet-ready, self-learning thermostats — thrusts Google into the residential energy management industry. While they now have access to and control of residential HVAC systems, several other sources of high-energy use (lighting, domestic water heaters, home appliances, etc.) as well as real-time energy metering technologies have yet to make their way into mainstream residential energy management systems.

Utilizing these types of energy management systems is economically viable at the commercial level; however, they are not cost-effective on the scale of residential energy management due to their proprietary nature. Google has the ability lower these barriers of entry by providing an open-source software platform that hardware manufactures could design their products around, allowing for easy integration across future technologies.

For an energy management system to serve an entire residence, a more inclusive set of energy management devices must be developed. To fully realize the potential of residential energy savings, cost-effective and easy-to-integrate metering and control devices are needed for residential lighting systems, domestic hot water systems, home appliances, and other residential plug loads. Whether or not the hardware comes from Google, the system that ties it all together should.

People Save, Google Profits

If Google could pull it off, customers would enjoy countrywide energy savings and reduced residential utility bills. The financial savings alone would motivate customers to pay a premium for a Google-based residential energy management system. Premiums could mean added revenue for Google in the form of licensing fees, user fees, and hardware costs, depending on the system’s structure. Google could also generate revenue through increased user traffic on its array of internet-related services and products.

With a fleet of residences under its influence, Google would be able to implement strategic electricity demand responses that would improve overall electrical grid operations and increase utility-wide efficiency. This is another potentially huge revenue source for Google; the utility will save money by avoiding costs associated with inefficiently utilizing their power generation resources to meet fluctuations in electricity demand while both Google and the individual users can profit by receiving a portion of the utility’s savings as payment for altering their electricity demand.

With Google’s powerful place in American lives, the limits of its impact on energy management are seemingly endless. While residential energy management services may provide a point of entry into the market, Google could eventually imbed personal energy management into the every-day lives of people across the globe.

Nathan Venos is a Mechanical Engineer at Sebesta, Inc. a full-service engineering and design services provider based in Roseville, MN. He currently works at their offices in Arlington, VA. He is a Member of the Clean Energy Leadership Institute, a leading leadership development organization for energy policy professionals based in Washington, D.C. 

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