Google PowerMeter is an ambitious project and potentially a good thing, but it is full of social implications.
And although the sensor networks will add a little bit of cost to equipment, the volumes are potentially so high it should be possible to quickly drive this down to a few tens of cents per item. And Google is being even more generous in fact positively philanthropic. The Google PowerMeter is free for all. Utilities and device manufacturers pay no fees to work with Google on this project and users likewise do not pay anything, or see adverts, when they use the Google PowerMeter.
Google states: "We're building this tool to provide energy information to consumers and to expose the opportunity that this front represents. As a project of Google.org, Google's philanthropic arm, the focus is on helping users understand how they use electricity and help them use less."
So far so good.
But how do you feel about the energy consumption of your house being stored in "the cloud" and possibly revealed to others? Google states up-front that the PowerMeter software is secure. But there is very little that has been invented that has not been hacked by humans. And suppose authorities ordered Google to release data in support of an investigation?
One could argue: "Well it's just a load of numbers," but it must also be realized that the energy consumption pattern of your home is like a "fingerprint" of your existence. Just like the pattern of cell phone calls we make and the base-stations we attach to when making those calls.
When somebody gets up in the night to get a drink of water and puts on the light, Google PowerMeter will know. When somebody living alone fails to get up during the day, because they are ill, or worse, Google PowerMeter will have spotted the lack of an energy-consumption surge at breakfast time. Of course the latter example could have benefits by alerting social services to a potential health crisis.