Microsoft is launching a set of tools aimed at helping US consumers reduce energy consumption costs and promises more on the way - although the UK may have to wait for a while.
The company's Hohm website 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 website 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 US Department of Energy to analyse 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 US, but Microsoft is looking to roll it out to other countries in the future, Nelson said. The first countries may include Germany, France, the UK and Canada. However, she provided no specific timeline on when the rollouts may happen.
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 centres.