Microsoft Achieves Trifecta With Hohm

When Microsoft rolled out its beta version of Hohm on Wednesday — a Web site that helps consumers save electricity — it scored a veritable hat-trick.

First — good publicity from positioning itself as a public benefactor.

Second, a live test of its Azure cloud service, first announced at Microsoft’s Professional Developers’ Conference in Los Angeles last October.

Third, staking out turf in a battle with Google over a possible business helping consumers cope with the results of governmental efforts to combat the greenhouse effect.

There’s No Place Like Hohm

Hohm is an online application that 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.

Anyone in the United States can access Hohm for free. If they go to http://mshohm.orcsweb.com , they can request access by becoming a Hohm friend on Facebook, following Hohm on Twitter or just keying in their email address.

“Microsoft saw a need for a solution that could not only help support consumers’ conservation efforts, but that was widely accessible, user friendly, and tailored to the user’s actual energy usage,” Troy Batterberry, product unit manager for Microsoft Hohm, told TechNewsWorld.

How Hohm Will Work

When you log into the Hohm Web site, Microsoft will ask for information about your household. This will include the features of your house, usage patterns and appliances.

Based on that information, Hohm will make recommendations for lowering electricity costs. These could range from renewing caulking on your windows to installing a programmable thermostat.

If you don’t provide your data, Hohm will base its recommendations on local and national averages.

Microsoft will leverage the energy usage data and feedback from users to refine the application.

Hohm will let consumers compare their energy usage with that of others in the area, and connect with other users to find referrals and exchange ideas.

Taking Care of Business

Hohm can help utilities promote conservation programs and encourage customers to reduce or spread out their energy consumption during peak periods, Microsoft said.

Microsoft has already lined up four utility partners: Puget Sound Energy; the Sacramento Municipal Utility District; Seattle City Light; and Xcel Energy.

Other partners are Itron and Landis + Gyr, both of which make intelligent metering, data collection and software solutions for the utility industry.

Giving Azure a Workout

When it introduced Azure last October, Microsoft said the problem it was trying to solve was one of scale when moving internal applications to the Internet.

Azure lets developers build applications on the cloud and host them in Microsoft’s data centers.

In January, Microsoft unveiled refreshed versions of its Azure SDK that improved the storage client and included bug fixes, as well as Windows Azure Tools for Visual Studio.

Hohm is the first big deployment of Microsoft’s Azure product, Gartner distinguished analyst Martin Reynolds told TechNewsWorld.

“They’ll deploy Hohm across a lot of locations simultaneously,” he said. “It’s a good test platform for their new technologies.”

Following in Google’s Footsteps

Earlier this year, Google launched PowerMeter, an application that shows consumers their utility consumption in a secure Google gadget on their personal iGoogle home page.

This was rolled out in limited beta to utility partners in the U.S., Canada and India. Itron is also participating in the PowerMeter project.

Google plans to expand the beta rollout later this year.

“We want to apply Google’s expertise organizing information to enable our users to save money and help the environment by reducing their electricity consumption,” Google said on its PowerMeter FAQs Web site.

Following the Money

It’s not all sweetness and light with Microsoft and Google, despite their bid to portray their efforts as a community service.

“Energy and carbon are going to be a really big deal over the next few years here,” Gartner’s Reynolds said. “The cost of electricity is going to increase, and there’ll be carbon offsets and taxes and fees as governments fight global warming — and there will be a lot of money to be made.”

Google and Microsoft are now staking out their turf, he continued, so that when electricity prices rise, they’ll be well situated to make money advising consumers how to keep their costs down.

“They’re just making a big land grab,” said Reynolds.

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