Energy and Global Warming News for May 21st: Google rolls out home energy software

Google Rolls Out Home Energy Software

Google’s initiative to allow people to monitor their energy use on their computers took a step forward on Wednesday, as the company announced partnerships with eight electric utilities that will be the first to use its “Power Meter.”

Essentially, the secure software gadget will interact with the intelligent metering devices currently being installed by utilities for their customers. The software will “show consumers their home energy information almost in real time, right on their computer,” the company says.

Googlers testing the device, which includes a graphic-rich, Web-based interface, have reported learning which appliances cause the largest spike in home energy use “” causing them to make changes like ensuring that an energy-intensive dishwasher or washing machine is fully loaded.

“One of my colleagues learned that her pool pump had been operating for years,” said Dan Reicher, the head of climate change programs at, with whom I spoke last month….

Google cites studies that suggest consumers could cut their electricity bills by 5 percent to 15 percent if they had access to information about how much electricity they are consuming.

Existential question:  Would such savings be energy efficiency — or conservation?

Less than 1% electricity-price hike seen under Dems’ RES plans

Average electricity prices would rise less than 1 percent under any of the leading Democratic plans for a national renewable energy standard (RES), according to a federal study released today.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory examined plans from Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, who proposed an 20 percent RES by 2021, with a quarter of that being met by efficiency; Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who offered 25 percent by 2025, with no efficiency substitutions; and Rep. Henry Waxman of California, who called for 25 percent by 2025, with efficiency allowed for a fifth of the standard.

Bingaman finds last 2 votes to pass electricity standard

The chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee appears to have enough support to include a renewable electricity standard in comprehensive energy legislation today.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D-N.M.) draft bill has picked up the support of Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, according to Robert Dillon, a spokesman for the committee minority. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) will also support the measure, according to Bill Wicker, a Bingaman spokesman.

Dem chairmen preview a summer of maneuvering on global warming bill

Three key House Democratic committee chairmen signaled yesterday that they too want to take a swing at the sweeping global warming package that Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is trying to pass out of committee this week.

Offering perhaps the biggest road block to a floor debate, Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) told reporters that he plans to put President Obama’s health care reform agenda ahead of Waxman’s global warming bill. “We have to deal with health care first,” Rangel said.

Obama hears econ concerns on climate plan

It was the venue least likely to produce controversy of any kind: A hand-picked panel of economic bigwigs meeting in a publicly webcast session with President Barack Obama to exchange semi-scripted speeches about “green jobs” and the economy.

But for all that, the president heard some real criticism of his proposal for a cap and trade plan to limit carbon emissions Wednesday morning during the first quarterly meeting of his new Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

Obama seemed eager to invite disagreement in a meeting where he otherwise heard some typical presidential fawning – board members talked repeatedly of Obama’s “leadership,” his “influence” and the ways in which he could “use the bully pulpit.”

“To the extent that there’s any skepticism in the room, I want to make sure that gets put on the table and we have a real conversation,” Obama said.

Al Gore dials for votes on warming bill

House Democrats backing controversial climate change legislation have been getting a hidden helping hand this week from Al Gore.

Over the past few days, the former vice president and environmental activist has mobilized his green grass roots, marshaled his well-endowed lobbying organization and even personally called Democratic committee members in an effort to push the bill through the House Energy and Commerce Committee and through Congress.

“I have enormous respect for Al Gore. When it comes to climate change, he’s the guru,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.).

Engel said Gore called him on Saturday to try to persuade him to vote for the legislation. The two, who had never spoken privately before, had a ‘nice, lengthy conversation,’ said the congressman.

Gore said he supported the legislation “despite the compromises that had to be made” because it was moving the country toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Renewable Energy Industries Ask Obama to Speed Loan Guarantees

Worried that an important loan-guarantee program has ground to a standstill, renewable energy industry associations sent a letter Wednesday to President Obama urging him to speed the program along.

The signers represented virtually every type of clean energy “” wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, nuclear, combined heat and power, and biomass “” and reflected the industry’s concern that a loan guarantee program for clean energy projects approved in the stimulus package was stuck in the federal bureaucracy, as has been a similar loan program that predates the stimulus.

Gas Is Up; Drivers May Not Cut Back

Thanks to lower fuel costs and a proliferation of travel bargains, Americans are expected to hit the roads this Memorial Day weekend in bigger numbers than last year.

Gasoline is selling for an average of $2.33 a gallon, up from $2.06 just last month, according to AAA, the automobile club, and a steep rise from the recent low of $1.67 a gallon in December. A cutback in refining production and the expected rebound in driving this weekend are helping to push up prices at the pump.

Some analysts expect to see gas rise above $2.50 a gallon this summer.

The number of people traveling by car this weekend is projected to rise by 2.7 percent compared with 2008, to 27 million people, according to projections from AAA. Last year, road travel fell by 9.6 percent when prices surged, according to the automobile group.

China says rich nations must cut emissions by 40%

China confirmed Thursday that it will demand rich nations cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 in upcoming global climate change negotiations.

In a position paper published for negotiations to be held in Copenhagen in December, China – one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases that cause global warming – did not commit to any legally binding reductions.

“Developed countries shall undertake to reduce their GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions in aggregate by at least 40 percent below their 1990 level by 2020,” said the paper, posted on China’s planning agency’s website.

“Developed countries shall take responsibility for their historical cumulative emissions and current high per capita emissions to change their unsustainable way of life and to substantially reduce their emissions.”

Global warming of 7C ‘could kill billions this century’

Global temperatures could rise by more than 7C this century killing billions of people and leaving the world on the brink of total collapse, according to new research.

The study, carried out in unprecedented detail, projected that without “rapid and massive action” temperatures worldwide will increase by as much as 7.4C (13.3F) by 2100, from levels seen in 2000.

Coral reefs in Southeast Asia could be wiped out in decades

If carbon emissions are not cut by 25 per cent to 40 per cent by the year 2020, higher ocean temperatures could kill off vast marine ecosystems and half the fish in them, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which warned that 100 million people earning a living off the sea could be forced to leave inundated coastlines and find new jobs.

Compiled by Max Luken and Carlin Rosengarten

16 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for May 21st: Google rolls out home energy software

  1. Robert says:

    Further existential question. Is this proof of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle – you can’t observe anything without affecting it. In this case you will never see your energy consumption drop to zero.

    Excellent idea though. In the UK they are rolling out smart meters to all households in the next 10 years. Don’t know if we will be able to monitor them on a browser though – you would have thought it would be fairly easy. I can monitor my networked printers in a browser (nothing to do woth Google).

  2. darth says:

    “Existential question: Would such savings be energy efficiency — or conservation?”

    I think its both. If you learn your pool pump is on and turn it off, that’s conservation. If you learn your lights use a ton of power and replace them with CFL or LED, that’s efficiency.

    Conservation is done by changing behavior, efficiency is done by replacing equipment. That’s my definition – thoughts everyone?

  3. paulm says:

    >The study, carried out in unprecedented detail, projected that without “rapid and massive action” temperatures worldwide will increase by as much as 7.4C (13.3F) by 2100, from levels seen in 2000.

    This is crazy. If this is so we are definitely on for 3C rise. I think we are now realizing that that 3C is catastrophic in any case. Goodbye cold world. Goodbye!

    The scary thing is these projections are always wrong – in the wrong direction.
    If this is the case I can’t see how we can intervene in a way that will result in any meaningfully outcome.

    We can’t stop the Tipping Action now – the planet is going to run one heck of fever, whatever we do.

  4. Pat Richards says:

    Non-existential answer: Sure. But nobody needs Google to do this. Most power companies (even my tiny rural one) have websites where you can log-in to your account on a private, secure connection and see data and graphs showing your personal power usage. But that doesn’t help you to conserve anywhere near much as knowing exactly how much power each device in your home is using. A KillAWatt meter ($29 bucks) does that.

    Two years ago I bought a KillAWatt meter and began monitoring precisely how much electricity each device in my home used. I was, um, shocked at some of the readings and so took steps to use those devices less or even replace them with more efficient versions. That caused me to really examine my electric bill , log-on to my electric company account and start actively working on my monthly usage trends. For the utility company to provide power metering to consumers is a great idea — but having Google do it is a terrible idea.

    I love a lot of things Google does, but its corporate culture is evolving into something very invasive, controlling and Big Brother-like. Since most power companies already can provide these data and graphs to customers, we do not need an unholy Google-Power Company alliance monitoring us second-by-second. That’s far more personal, detailed knowledge about me than I want Google to know. I don’t really even want my power company to know it, but since they are the provider there’s no way to stop them (like there is no way to stop your phone company from knowing exactly who you called, when and for how long).

    I find it very disturbing that our power companies are handing over this personal, private info to Google without asking our permission or giving us the choice to opt-out. This is the same as if the phone company were giving the details of all our phone conversations to Google. This is the kind of invasion and monitoring of our private lives that the conservatives are upset about and using as a rallying cry to get people to deny climate change and the need to do anything about it. It’s a bad idea and an unnecessary one.

    I just don’t see the point in involving Google in this process at all, since our individual power companies can already provide this information to us directly. But I do I see the potential for serious misuse and abuse of the information by Google. Bottom line: I don’t need it and I don’t want it.

  5. Robert says:

    “If you learn your pool pump is on and turn it off, that’s conservation. ”

    Or in the case of we poor Eurpeans don’t have a pool in the first place, thus saving the environmental and financial cost of building, maintaining, heating, cleaning, chlorinating, filling it with water…

    We tend to use public pools. Sometimes we even use public transport to get there (not very often I admit…)

  6. Leland Palmer says:

    I crawled under the house yesterday night, and discovered a big leak in the ducts, spilling air conditioning and heating air into the crawlspace. I don’t know how much this might have affected our electric bills, but likely it was a lot. I know we have been heating and cooling the crawl space, though, because I felt cold air conditioning air coming out of it.

    It’s hard to bring a system back into control without the feedback of true information into the decision making process. Smart meters, and computer monitoring of them, might help diagnose problems like this.

    Good for Google. Wonderful idea, IMO.

    Another great idea from Google: the CARMA (Climate Monitoring for Action) database that monitors coal and other power plants, and helps consumers tell where their electricity comes from and how “green” it is. Suggestion – choose the option that integrates CARMA with Google Earth, and cruise around looking at power plants.

    This is a real eye opener, IMO.

    One conclusion from looking at this database: WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING RADICAL AND MASSIVE ABOUT COAL.

  7. Chris Winter says:

    Pat Richards:

    That device looks like a pretty good solution to the problem of measuring appliance power consumption. The price is certainly right. It beats the other products I was aware of: the Watts Up meters, which range in price from $86 to $240.

    Also the “KillAWatt” models, with ratings of 1800-1900 KVA, will handle most appliances — though I wouldn’t recommend using them with a toaster, a space heater, or a room air conditioner.

  8. Mark Shapiro says:

    I’m pretty much with Darth:

    “Conservation is done by changing behavior, efficiency is done by replacing equipment. ”

    And I am happy that CP has asked how to distinguish between efficiency and conservation, because both are very important, and they are usually mashed together.

    And most unfortunately, conservation is usually derided as “freezing in the dark”. It is now considered unAmerican; conservation has been made politically, and culturally, toxic.

    It is good to reclaim simple conservation as a core American (and human) value. And it doesn’t hurt to note that when you conserve, you earn completely tax-free income!

  9. oxnardprof says:

    Efficiency respesents using the least amont of electricity to perform some action. Conservation represents using less electricity overall. Greater efficiency can be negated by increased consumption.

    So, I agree that the model should be conservation of resources. I do not know how to get to a model of striving to be frugal in a society where wealth and consumption are aspirational goals, despite the recent recession. It would be nice if people would boast of how low their energy consumption is, rather then the size of their TV.

  10. hapa says:

    joe, call it “resource intelligence” or such and the line’s moot

    oxnardprof, personal status-seeking is a smaller problem than our economic system being based on continuous “growth” in spending

  11. Pat Richards says:

    Chris Winter,

    I have used my $29 KillAWatt meter with all three devices you say you wouldn’t want to use it with (toaster, space heater and air conditioner) and it worked fine and suffered no damage. No residential toaster, space heater or air conditioner goes above 1500 watts, which the KillAWatt meter handles easily. Air conditioners rated above 10,000 BTU all run on 220v and have a different plug which will not fit into the KillaWatt’s socket.

    This Google device does not tell you exactly how much a particular device is using, both at start up surge and normal running current like the KillAWatt does. The KillAWatt also stores the usage info over any time frame you want, which is very important for certain devices: I plugged it into my refrigerator and left it there for 30 days and it gave me the total power consumed by the fridge over the whole month, which included cold days and warm days and different amounts of opening and closing the doors on the fridge. Highly useful, specific information which you won’t get from this Google thingie. And you don’t have to give Google access to your home to use the KillAWatt.

  12. SecularAnimist says:

    Robert wrote: “Is this proof of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle – you can’t observe anything without affecting it.”

    Off-topic, but that’s not what Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle says. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle says that the position and momentum of a particle are complementary properties and cannot be simultaneously measured to arbitrary precision. The more precisely you measure position, the less precisely you are able to measure momentum. In essence, to the extent that a particle has a precise position, its momentum is indeterminate, and vice versa. That’s not because your measurement affects the position or momentum of the particle, it’s because of the complementary nature of the physical properties involved.

  13. James Newberry says:

    I am disappointed in Joe, one of the great defenders of clean energy (along with truth and liberty from fraudulent concepts), for making the elemental blunder of referring to atomic fission as clean energy. Nuclear is NOT included in most definitions of renewable or clean energy. There are so many reasons this is so that I will just refer one website,, and say that if one walks near an irradiated fuel rod bundle you would be dead in several minutes. Replacing one contaminant for another would be the height of folly, along with the tragic opportunity cost of diverting capital and engineering capacity in a time crisis.

    [JR: Well, this was not me referring to fission as clean energy but an article in the news clips (put together by my assistants). I don’t believe I have ever called nuclear clean energy.]

  14. paulm says:

    Prof Chu told BBC News he feared the world might be heading towards a tipping point on climate change

  15. Elmo says:

    A simpler solution for the average utility rate paying household is Greenquest. The people who run that site have been in the business of tracking energy usage for 20+ years and it doesn’t require anything more complex than your utility bills.

  16. James Newberry says:

    Joe, I apologize for the mistaken impression on my part of reference to nuclear as “clean.” I had not realized that you were quoting from other media, the New York Times blog. My bad, I have never seen you make such a reference. Thank you for the clarification.

    On a related subject, I wonder what exactly is meant in CAP verbage by the term low-carbon and why did B. Hendrick’s co-author, Rep. Inslee, propose more nuclear funding through the “clean energy bank”? With atomic fission advocates serving as advisors to the president, does there seem to be some bias occuring against clean energy?