Companies call for better home energy monitoring

Google, AT&T and other companies ask the Obama administration to push energy monitoring technologies

A group of 47 companies and organizations, including several in the IT sector, have asked U.S. President Barack Obama to take new steps that would allow homeowners and businesses to better monitor their energy use.

"We all receive an electricity bill once a month that is hard to decipher besides the total amount due," Michael Terrell, Google's energy policy counsel, wrote in a blog post Monday. "What if we instead had access to more useful and actionable information about our energy consumption? What if consumers could use this information to automatically adjust appliances, lights, and other equipment to save money and cut energy use?"

In a Monday letter to Obama, the group asked the president to encourage energy customers to purchase and install technologies and devices that will help them measure their energy use in real time. The group -- including AT&T, Comcast, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon and Best Buy -- asked Obama to convene a summit on empowering energy customers with better information and tools to measure energy use.

The group also asked to require the U.S. Department of Energy and other federal agencies to include useful energy consumption tools as criteria in grants and other energy programs.

Energy customers should be able to monitor their use through computers or other displays, the letter said.

"We know more about how we use the gasoline in our cars than we do power in our homes," Google said in a statement. People will drive miles to save a few pennies per gallon of gas, it said. "We pay roughly the same amount to power our homes but know very little about our power use."

Google, which is hosting a forum on energy use and measurement Tuesday, compared the way people pay for energy to the way they pay for gasoline.

"You get a bill once a month with almost no discernible information except how much money you owe and where to send the check," the company said. "Could you imagine filling up your car all month in gas stations without prices then getting a bill at the end of the month? With timely, useful and actionable information on their energy use, people can achieve significant savings."

The Obama administration pushed for $4.5 billion in funding for smart-grid energy technologies to be included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in early 2009. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission also focused on how broadband services could help energy customers track their use when it released its national broadband plan last month.

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