Google has acquired Nest Labs, the maker of a smart learning thermostat. The Nest thermostat connects your air conditioning and heating device to the internet and makes it accessible via your phone and computer. It also learns your habits and preferences to predict when it should turn the A/C on or off.
Sounds great, but what does it have to do with your electric utility? Absolutely everything! Your heating and cooling patterns linked with how you use your home can create a system-wide prediction mechanism for when and where electricity is needed. Solar can be intricately linked to your home system, along with the other residential services that are now available.
The key aspects of home services include: home automation (lighting, cooling, etc), home security, residential solar, broadband (cable, internet), and electricity. Google makes a market in all of them except for home security. Two of the leading providers in home security include Vivint and Alarm.com, both of which are very active in residential solar (Alarm.com has a partnership with 1BOG) and home energy automation. Vivint was a large force in home security before entering the residential solar space, today holding over 10% market share of residential solar. Home security companies are one of the leading threats to energy utilities as mentioned by many Utility CEOs, so keep your eyes on acquisitions in the sector by either Google or Utilities.
Now that Google has an understanding of your heating and cooling habits with the Nest device, it may have all of the information it needs to be a very effective electric utility. More importantly it has been heading into this direction for years. In 2010, Google filed for and was granted approval to be an energy marketer by FERC1. Key language from the order includes:
“Google Energy requests authorization to sell ancillary services in the markets administered by PJM Interconnection, L.L.C., New York Independent System Operator, Inc., ISO New England Inc., California Independent System Operator Corp., and the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, Inc. Google Energy also requests authorization to engage in the sale of certain ancillary services as a third-party provider in other markets.”
Google’s presence in solar is no secret, having invested $75million in one of the latest Clean Power Finance (CPF) funds and also sits on the CPF Board through Google Ventures. Google also hosts a large system on its headquarters and has invested in large utility scale projects. To recap, we already know that Google sees your online habits and now is providing you other service options including: broadband access (Google Fiber), wireless (Android), home automation (Nest), and solar (CPF).
Contrary to 60 Minutes reporting, cleantech hasn’t crashed. Google may just be creating the first smart cleantech utility!