Microsoft has big plans for power-saving tools

Through a new Web site, users will be able to get information about energy consumption, and eventually, ideas to save money

Microsoft on Wednesday announced online tools that could help consumers reduce energy consumption costs, and said it had big plans for products in the pipeline.

Microsoft's Hohm Web site will offer tools that allow users to view home energy use and receive recommendations on how to save energy. It will also help users compare energy usage trends over months or years.

The tools will also provide tips on reducing energy bills. For example, heating could be a major contributor to high electricity bills, and the Web site will offer tips on installing thermostats or sealing homes to better preserve heat. The tools aren't yet available, but users can sign up to be notified when the beta service becomes available.

A Microsoft spokeswoman couldn't say when the service would become available.

But how much can consumers expect to save with the help of the online tools? Initially, perhaps not a lot. The beta service will start by helping users better understand energy use based on information about a home, its residents and installed appliances. The company is working with some utility companies to automatically upload energy usage data into the online applications.

Microsoft hopes to evolve the service over time to include capabilities that provide granular detail on home electricity use. Microsoft will build in analytics that break down electricity usage by heating, lighting, cooling and appliance. That could help users isolate electricity-hogging devices, which could help cut costs. The additional data will also lead to better recommendations for consumers.

Over time, as more people participate and provide feedback, the software will get smarter and recommendations more accurate, said Mindy Nelson, a Microsoft spokeswoman. The company is also researching tools like smart meters to measure and manage electricity usage, which could make the software even more intelligent.

The Hohm service will use analytics software from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy to analyze electricity data.

Microsoft hopes to make money from the service, Nelson said. In the short term, the company expects revenue from advertisers of energy-efficient products when the Hohm Web site spits out energy-saving recommendations. Over time, Microsoft could generate revenue from supplying data about energy trends to utility companies, who could use it to cope with the growing energy demand.

The service is available only in the U.S., but Microsoft is looking to roll it out to other countries in the future, Nelson said. The first countries may include Germany, France, the U.K. and Canada. However, she provided no specific timeline on when the rollouts may happen.

Microsoft is also partnering with utility companies to upload electricity usage data to the system, including Puget Sound Energy, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Seattle City Light and Xcel Energy. The company hopes to add about six more utilities in the next few months.

Microsoft isn't the first company to offer such tools. Google's PowerMeter service shows consumers their energy consumption details in a downloadable widget. It also provides recommendations on what users could do to cut energy costs. However, the tool requires users to install smart meters inside homes.

Microsoft already builds power-management tools into its operating systems and offers software to manage power in servers and data centers.

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