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Hohm - save energy the Microsoft way

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Household energy conservation is a task typically handled by fathers peevishly moving from room-to-room, turning off lights and closing doors whilst grumbling over the barnyard behavior of his offspring. But now Microsoft wants a piece of the racket.

The Redmond giant on Wednesday said that it's launching a free web-based service that lets households track their energy usage and offers tailored tips to reduce power consumption.

The service, dubbed Hohm, uses algorithm-agic developed by the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory and the US Department of Energy to make recommendations based on user input as well as data sent from utility providers. Hohm will be available in the US at an unspecified time within the next few days and internationally at an even-less specified time further on.

Those interested in getting a head start can sign up here.

Hohm will kick off by asking users for their postal code and email address. From there, users are directed to "My Hohm Center" to fine-tune their data by completing a questionnaire of nearly 200 questions dealing with things like the size of the home, what kind of water heater is used, and whether the home has air conditioning or not.

Users also have the option of entering information from their utility bills or even requesting that their utility providers send information directly to Hohm itself. The latter obviously requires utility participation, and so far, Microsoft has signed only four for launch: Seattle City Light, Puget Sound Energy, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, and Xcel Energy. Hohm plans to sign more utility providers as the service rolls on.

Microsoft apparently wants utility providers to pay for the service (although home users won't be charged...directly). The carrot for utilities is that users will be able to cut down their power usage during peak hours.

Later on, Microsoft intends for the service to grab data from programmable thermostats and so-called "smart plugs" to provide better real-time information. It all sounds well and good until the day we're inevitably forced to call Microsoft's activation center after adding a deck to the house.

Users can also use Hohm to compare their electrical consumption with others in the area – which is useful because, ah, er, because why not have another reason to hate the Hendersons next door?

For a first-hand looksie, the folks over at on10.net have a handy walkthough/interview video on the service.

If Hohm sounds a bit like Google's PowerMeter program, that's probably because it is. Google, however, only offers its service to a limited group of customers that are being served by partnering utilities. PowerMeter also only tracks electricity usage, while Hohm extends itself to things like natural gas. Microsoft may be obsessed with Google's coattails. But this time it's expanding on the idea.

Hohm, by the way, is one of the first big products developed on top of Microsoft's Azure cloud service platform. ®

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