Google PowerMeter: Open API is All Good.

Google LogoAt Energy Circle, we have been awaiting the day that Google would open up its API for the Google PowerMeter (GPM) widget since ... well since we learned about GPM. It was clear from the start that they would, eventually, and yesterday, the good news came. Martin LaMonica at CNET GreenTech wrote a good post with a great summary.

In short, any device can, like the TED 5000, send data up to Google PowerMeter. You kind of have to be an energy geek to think that's interesting, but I am a geek, and I know a lot of them. We're interested indeed.

I perused the API—that's its application programming interface, which lets the program interact with other software—a little, and it delivers exactly what I expected: the ability to upload electricity data associated with a Google account. Data can be segmented (e.g. circuit-by-circuit, or to see the data from a Solar PV installation). And data can be fetched back.

Perhaps our earliest disappointment with GPM is that it is not built to be shared. Google's implementation is simply a widget displayed as part of your iGoogle page. It's intrinsically linked with your Google account, with data transmitted securely over HTTPS. This hasn't changed. This should alleviate some of the concerns of the first few people who commented on the CNET article, claiming that Google PowerMeter was just another example of how they were going to use all of our data to take over the world. We're not concerned about that. We're confident that Google has given the world PowerMeter for a good reason: They think they can help make a positive difference. Privacy is important, and the Google account is a good way to ensure privacy.

But if you do want to share your data, the API provides a couple of interesting options. Services such as eMonitor and WattVision (not to mention power companies themselves) collect and store readings on a central server. Those services can use the API to forward this data for personal use via the Google PowerMeter widget, too. This allows the source to keep whatever special details and services their systems allow, and also display on Google.

If you already use a device like a TED 5000, Google has the data collected (every 10 minutes) for people who give it to go ahead to do so. I'm one of them; I now have about six months of history up there. And if users were so inclined, they could grant other services permission to use the API to collect data from user accounts—and aggregate the data in interesting ways. Competitions amongst friends? Tax credits? Comparisons with others in your region? Class action suits against your utility? Think of the possibilities!

One other intriguing possibility is that multiple, distinct sources could update your home's data. Wouldn't it be cool if your utilities, including electricity, gas or oil, even gasoline and other energy suppliers, could pour their data into a central repository like GPM? Then, we could finally have it—the house-by-house total power view. Sadly, we'll have to wait for that, and not just because most utilities take 10 years to do what most other businesses do in one year.

I'm disappointed that Google's PowerMeter API still limits its measurement to electricity. Measurements of other values, such as natural gas or water, are verboten. I'm not complaining loudly (yet). But in my house, we use four to five times as much power for heating and hot water (measured in Watts, Therms or any other equivalent unit) as we do for electricity. It's called Google PowerMeter; I would love to be able see all of our power in one place. Alas, all good things come, in time.

Even so, the open API is well designed (as are all of Google's APIs). And it should be a snap for all of us energy geeks to do interesting and novel things with.

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