Microsoft Hohm launched in Beta this morning, promising an easier way for consumers to manage their carbon footprints as well as energy costs. Microsoft hopes the Web-based energy monitoring application will deliver advertising revenues and a robust information-gathering platform along with energy savings for users.
Logging into Hohm is simple enough; entering a ZIP code is sufficient to get you the average breakdown of energy use and costs for dwellings in your area. Hohm then asks you to answer some questions about your abode, taking stock of square footage, modes of heating and cooling, the number of light fixtures in each room (and whether you use CFLs or not), the kinds of appliances present and how often they’re used. Hohm then crunches that information and issues an energy report, complete with step-by-step instructions for saving energy. (This is similar to what Mint.com does for your personal finances.)
You can skip over questions you don’t know the answer to, and with an incomplete profile Hohm still paints a decent picture of energy consumption. But Hohm also fails to ask some important questions, especially for those who rent their homes and therefore may not pay for all aspects of their energy use (For instance, Hohm overestimated my annual energy costs by almost double, but I don’t pay for heat in my building, something Hohm never asked me about when projecting my future costs).
But the energy report is undoubtedly helpful, and once Hohm has your rough information it offers various tools to help you save both money and energy. Hohm builds a checklist of the things that will most help your particular living space become more efficient. You can ask Hohm for the best way to save $100 per month or for the best way to get the most energy savings by spending $100 on improvements. It even estimates the costs of upgrading and calculates how long it will take before a home improvement pays for itself.
But Hohm falls flat when it comes to getting the most important energy data of all: The historical and ongoing consumption data that only energy providers or smart meters can offer. Without that data, the best Hohm can hope for is a rough sketch of each users’ energy usage. Only four utilities are partnered with Hohm right now, offering precise consumption data over the Web. For those of us who don’t buy from those utilities, the only option is to sit down with our bills and manually enter the data. While its nice to think consumers will take the time to do this, it’s not realistic.
Other personal consumption tracking services like Mint.com are so appealing because once users enter their data once, their profiles update automatically thereafter. It took several years for banks to create standard ways of making the data available, but now an avalanche of accurate, up-to-date information is never more than a click away. Users want Hohm to micromanage their energy budgets, but they don’t want to micromanage Hohm. Without easy access to that energy consumption data (that is, more utility partners), Hohm is an incomplete product. If Microsoft wants repeat users and a regular advertising audience on Hohm, it needs to make energy planning so easy it’s an afterthought.
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