Climate Change

Published on April 21st, 2014 | by Guest Contributor


Google: Pioneering Residential Energy Efficiency

April 21st, 2014 by  

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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  • TedKidd

    The presumption that savings lies in turning temperatures down is a big cultural lie. It’s perpetuated by people who have NO CLUE where the opportunity is, and parrot a premise created by the thermostat industry to sell thermostats.

    It’s as absurd as stating that auto efficiency is found by driving our hummers 65 mph instead of 67.

    I wish people that have no idea what saves would stop suggesting how to save.

    • Benjamin David Werblow

      It’s a shame you spread disinformation about saving energy, the science behind saving energy by driving slow and turning you thermostat down (even if only for a few hours) is not disputable and is extremely cost effective

      • TedKidd

        What do you base that statement on? Are you in the home performance industry? Have you ever measured?

        Making unsupported claims of “not disputable” is argument from omniscience. A sign of very low quality thinking processes.

    • Rick Kargaard

      You would save much more by driving a compact and parking your hummer. I would like to hear your justification, if you actually own one.

      • TedKidd

        Hunh? Own one what?

        How much more could I save? Sounds like a promise without commitment. Can you give me a measured amount of savings I can expect so I know if the juice is worth the squeeze?

        Look folks, if you make decisions based upon claims of “you’ll save” without asking “save what”, not sure your thinking skills merit further engagement.

        • Rick Kargaard

          Do you own a hummer?

          • TedKidd

            Oh, no. TDI sportwagen and GEM E2 (for city driving)

            To where opportunity is for savings in homes:

            Thermostats won’t save the earth. That is a sale of swampland…


            If the house has cancer don’t buy aspirin, FIX THE HOUSE. 

            Thermostats don’t stop energy loss of the enclosure, that happens whether the equipment is running or not.

            A good house loses energy so slowly that changing set temp doesn’t magically reduce losses by meaningful or even measurable amounts.


            ONE CLIENT EXAMPLE: Nice lady came to me complaining of discomfort. She had already had comprehensive improvements completed but was uncomfortable.

            She kept her thermostat at 62. Was afraid to set it higher.

            I suggested she read her meter, turn her thermostat to 69, then call me in a month. A month later she called to inform me that keeping her house 7 degrees warmer had dramatically improved life for her, at a cost of 20¢ a day.

            20¢ a day for the heating season means what, $30 more a year to live comfortably? Her house is fixed, her total gas bill is under $500 a year. There isn’t juice worth squeezing there.

            I have clients who spend $3500 a year. I can cut THAT bill in half! We need to stop chasing pennies and ignoring dollars. Being UN-comfortable is not the path to significant energy savings, and it can have unintended health, durability, productivity consequences.

          • Rick Kargaard

            HEY, Why the earlier vitriol. We are on the same page. The house envelope is the first concern. That doesn,t mean a smart thermostat can,t save a little. I prefer a low cost manual one myself. It is easy to adjust when you go to bed or leave the house. Technology will sell to those who cannot or do not care to make an effort. If we all were totally anti tech we would all be Quakers. Actually a rather admirable life style.
            I live north of latitude 52, on the prairie. We just went through an extra cold winter. My NG bill for heating, cooking and hot water was considerably less than 100.00 per month except for one when the price jumped and brought it to just over 100.
            Yes, my house is an efficient one that I built myself last summer, but even older homes can be improved dramaticaly. Both for heating and cooling
            Anyone spending 3500.00 must have either an extremely large house, an expensive energy source or they can throw the cat out without opening the door.

          • TedKidd

            If it ain’t predictable, its hypothetical.

            Do you want to invest in predictable, or hypothetical?

            My clients don’t want “give me a bunch of money, I have no idea whether you’ll save meaningful or measurable energy, and you probably will be less comfortable rather than more comfortable…”

            And this is not acceptable: “You didn’t save money? Must be something YOU did wrong. YOU don’t know how to operate it properly…”

            I don’t believe making low integrity recommendations, or mistreating my clients, is a path to a sustainable consulting business.

            So I don’t make recommendations that have low savings likelihood or predictability and high likelihood of failure and client frustration.

  • Will E

    The Planet is loaded with clean cheap Energy.
    It is just time to Put Solar on your roof, Solar City Parks, and massive Wind Farms.
    Clean Cheap Power everywhere.
    Google is just too small for Clean Energy.
    Money made by Solar and Wind Power to spend
    Sport, Education, Art, Children, Grandpa and Grandma, Holidays for Yourself
    or Surprise yourself with a new TESLA.

    I go to Spain sabbatical next week to spend my Solar Euros in Sunny Spain.

  • JamesWimberley

    I agree that Google has the resources and market penetration to make this work. Above all, Google,like Apple, knows how to make user interfaces that users can actually find their way round.

    One worry is Google’s cavalier attitude to privacy. My home is my castle; access by utilities into it for managing my solar panels, batteries, a/c and freezer should be strictly by invitation and under clear contracts.

    • Would you trust Apple or some other random company with your home information more? I think Google’s reputation for being ‘cavalier’ with privacy is largely a myth. They’re far more transparent than Facebook and Yahoo for example.

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