Microsoft announced last Thursday that it would be discontinuing its Hohm online home energy management (HEM) application service from next May ‘due to the slow overall market adoption of the service’. The move came just three days after Google had announced it was pulling the plug on PowerMeter, its home electricity monitoring tool, in September because it ‘didn’t catch on the way we would have hoped’.
In its Hohm blog, Microsoft said that the feedback had been good for the beta period, but because of slow adoption the company would be focusing on products and solutions ‘more capable of supporting long-standing growth within this evolving market’. (It’s not clear what’s happening with Microsoft’s collaboration with Ford to implement Hohm in the car company’s electric vehicles).
The blog went on to describe Microsoft’s various other activities in the area, including:
• Working with partners in the IT industry to accelerate the development of energy-smart solutions for cities.
• Microsoft’s Smart Energy Reference Architecture (SERA), which helps utilities develop an ecosystem where smart devices can plug into the grid with common standards and an interoperability framework.
• Joulemeter, which measures the energy usage of servers, desktops, laptops, virtual machines and even individual pieces of software.
• A focus on cloud computing as a means to save energy.
It’s curious that the two announcements – PowerMeter and Hohm - were so close together, perhaps they were each waiting for the other to break first.
It’s true that there are limited opportunities in directly addressing the HEM market at the moment. The best opportunities for companies like Google and Microsoft are going to be in helping utilities achieve their smart grid and smart meter ambitions. It probably won’t be clear just what the HEM market will look like until that process is well under way.
For the moment the HEM winners are likely to be companies that offer a broad, integrated hardware and software solution. For example, UK company AlertMe uses a Home Area Network (HAN) and cloud-based platform to let users monitor and control energy use, heating, solar PV, security and other devices and services online and via smart phones. (And the company’s recently-appointed new Chairman is the ex head of CSC’s European business).
But that’s not to say that Google and Microsoft won’t be back. The potential of HEM and HANs and all that entails (possibly including the ‘Internet of Things’) is too big an area of green ICT for these companies to ignore. Give it two or three years and they’ll be back, in one form or another, either through their own solutions or from the acquisition of today’s HEM/HAN start-ups.