Microsoft Hohm's challenge in the home energy market

When I first saw the Microsoft Hohm tool it was as if they had peered inside my head and taken my vision for what the residential energy monitoring and comparison landscape would look like.  You can see our original plans for what we had for Mapawatt in our Map Tool Demo post, and all of this was eerily similar to what Hohm was trying to do.  I thought that all hope for the Mapawatt idea was lost, because if Microsoft was doing it, what could little 'ol Mapawatt provide that they couldn' turns out we all have some learnin' to do. The most interesting thing to me about Hohm is that it was never that interesting to the masses.  It's a neat tool that enables people to compare their consumption vs. their neighbors and help people lower their energy bills; exactly what we had in mind for Mapawatt.  But it turns out, neighbors aren't exactly clamoring to their computers to compare their energy consumption.  This is something we all have come to realize.  I've said many times over the last 2 years of blogging that if I were writing about Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, or (insert pop star who does nothing to improve America's future yet is the darling of the media), then the Mapawatt blog would be extremely profitable. But "residential energy and sustainability" just doesn't seem that high on everyone's list.  And let's be honest: How can anyone compete with babies in diapers gesticulating (something feels very wrong about writing "gesticulating" and "baby" in the same sentence) and having a conversation in baby language!

All ideas evolve, and just like we are working on evolving our idea at Mapawatt, Microsoft's Hohm is evolving as well.  Last week CNET's Green Tech blog reported that Hohm is going to shift its focus on the EV market.  From the Green Tech blog post:

Microsoft launched Hohm almost two years ago as a free application for consumers to monitor energy use and get tips on how to improve efficiency. It has signed on fewer than 10 utilities which use Hohm to provide consumers with electricity data online and it has partnered to provide electricity monitoring using a home's Wi-Fi connection. But despite those efforts, the reception from utilities and consumers has not been what Microsoft had hoped originally, Rob Bernard, Microsoft's chief environmental strategist, said yesterday at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference here. In response, Microsoft is increasing the focus of Hohm on a partnership with Ford to manage electric-vehicle charging at home, he said. "We aren't seeing the level of traction in home monitoring than we had hoped for so we're increasing our focus on EVs and making them more connected," Bernard said, adding that Microsoft intends to learn from its experience so far.

We mentioned the relationship between Hohm and Ford over a year ago, so it isn't exactly surprising that they are going down this avenue.  However, since Ford is still months/years away from releasing an EV, we still have a ways to go.  Hohm isn't the only one to change direction, Wattzy, a tool that enabled residential energy consumers to compare their consumption was shut down last Fall and a similar company, Hug Energy, shut down in January. For the sake of Mapawatt's original vision of residential energy conservation, I hope Microsoft's Hohm succeeds in one form or another.  I also hope that we all find that magic recipe that will engage residential energy and water consumers.  If we don't...well....I may need to catch up on my pop-culture.

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<i>But it turns out, neighbors aren’t exactly clamoring to their computers to compare their energy consumption. </I> And I think that's the whole thing. There's just no motivation for most people. I have, on occasion, posted my kWh for the month on my Facebook status, and a few friends have responded with theirs. Getting anyone to look at their usage seems like a decent first step; for me it was a slippery slope and now I'm all power-graphed out ;) Hohm + Ford? I'll believe it when I see it. I call <a href="" rel="nofollow">vaporware</a> so far. I've been amazed at what a dedicated individual can do vs. the best efforts of a mega-corp like Microsoft; the <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> website kicks butt over any commercial PV monitoring site. It slices, it dices, it graphs, it compares. And all this from a guy and his netbook. (<a href="" rel="nofollow">here's my system</a>) So maybe some day something similar will come for home energy. The problem to me is a) easy access to the data, and b) enough marketing/buzz/peer pressure/whatever to make people care a little in the first place. After I got started, I got obsessive; it's like a game to try to push it down. Maybe I'm a freak, but I hope there are more freaks like me out there!

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