Google, Nest, and the value of your home’s energy profile

As highlighted by The Loop, Chris Baraniuk reports for New Scientist, “‘Nest has always been a company that’s been interested not just in devices but also the data and algorithms behind them,’ says Sara Watson at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. ‘Obviously that’s going to pique Google’s interest.'”

“The Nest thermostat is designed to learn when and how you like to heat your home. After a 12-day set-up period, the device has learned your basic schedule, is able to turn the heating on and off intelligently, and in the process it attempts to save you energy by only firing up the boiler when you really need it,” Baraniuk reports. “Watson believes Google is now a company obsessed with viewing everyday activities as ‘”information problems’ to be solved by machine learning and algorithms.”

“There are methods of inferring what devices are being used in a home at a given moment. It’s an aspect of ‘non-intrusive load monitoring,’ whereby the energy signatures of individual devices like your washing machine or TV can be picked up as part of the overall energy input to the house,” Baraniuk reports. “Researchers in 2011 were even able to use a similar approach to determine what movie was being watched on a television set by making energy profiles of each film. This was achieved by observing that a television’s electricity load will vary over time depending on whether dark or light scenes are being displayed to the viewer. Although the researchers in question relied on very granular data from the television set, Danezis worries that such techniques could one day offer smart-home companies an X-ray view of your home.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Non-intrusive load monitoring? Is that anything like artificial grass, honest politicians or forward lateral?

Related articles:
Why Apple didn’t buy Tony Fadell’s Nest Labs – January 14, 2014
Feuds, funding and a fed up Fadell: Why Apple didn’t buy Nest – January 14, 2014
Did Tim Cook blow it by not snapping up Nest before Google? – January 13, 2014
Google to buy Nest Labs for $3.2 Billion – January 13, 2014
Tony Fadell introduces Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector – October 8, 2013
Tony Fadell, Father of the iPod: From Apple to Nest Labs, always a designer – July 24, 2013
Apple Store to sell Tony Fadell’s Nest Learning Thermostat, report claims – May 25, 2012
‘Father of the iPod’ Tony Fadell shows off his new project: Thermostats – October 25, 2011

36 Comments

  1. I’m now very torn about what to do with my Nest and Protect (smoke detector). It knows when I’m home and my occupancy habits. I was OK with Nest having the info because I trusted them but now with Google having this info I’m very uncomfortable.

    I expect ads to start appearing on my Nest. Or even worse, directed advertising to my Gmail account based on my living habits.

    1. I may move mine from the AC in the main hallway to the heat in the seldom used guest bedrooms. A very expensive toy now being put away where it can do the least damage. Maybe sell it on-line. I still have the box it came in.

    1. How do I subscribe or unsubscribe from The Nest email list?
      Simply visit http://global.thenest.com/join/EmailPreferences.aspx?MsdVisit=1 to select the communications that interest you. Here you may also change your email format preference (html or text) and unsubscribe from any email offerings you’re not interested in receiving.

      You can also unsubscribe from specific email by following the simple instructions included at the bottom of every email from The Nest.

  2. I worked in the electric utility industry for many years, a good part of it overseeing automated meter reading systems. One aspect of my responsibilities was analyzing customer electric usage anomalies, flagged by the system, to identify metering errors, energy theft, abnormal loading, and illegal operations.

    You would be amazed at what can be understood about your household and activities from analyzing your electrical usage on a time interval basis. Heating and cooling data can be just as informative. This information would be pure gold for an advertising company. I’m sure that when this kind of information is combined with GPS information from cell phones, reverse mapping of phone numbers, internet search terms being used, social media information, and browsing cookies, that Google will gain access to an advertising gold mine. It will enable the sale of very detailed information about all of Google/Nest’s customers to whoever is willing to pay for it.

    1. Dear Zeke,

      I’ll be out f***ing from 9am to 5pm (getting it from the boss), and then I’ll be in at 7pm for more f***ing (getting it from the girlfriend). And yes, f***ing is exactly what it means – being screwed for money by the boss and girlfriend.

      Thank you.

      Your friendly electric meter

    2. My power company gave notice that smart meters were going to be installed, but no notice as to when. One day I was out mowing my yard and noticed the smart meter and had no idea it had been done. When I asked the neighbor, he said it was done 3 days before. I wasn’t pleased with the lack of real notification.

      The other neighbor still had her mechanical meter. She said was home when they came by and refused to have one installed. I notice she now has one and may ask f she relented or if they just went ahead and did it anyway.

      1. Typically, you’ll be allowed to keep the old mechanical meter, but they’ll want to charge you labor (about $20/hr including driving time) to come read it every month. They’ll leave it up to you whether it’s worth it.

        Don’t be surprised if your bill goes up about 5% or so. With most older mechanical meters, if they are inaccurate at all, it is on the short side of measurement due to rough bearings, wear, and other aging. When a new, accurate, digital meter is installed the customer loses the benefit if the meter measuring on the low side.

        This whole exercise might seem a bit pointless. Is it really that valuable to know how much electricity you’ve used every 15 minutes all day long? Well, as I’ve described above, it does have a lot of value. It allows power companies to forecast demand for different types of customers and weather conditions, and schedule generation availability, which saves them money. The real value comes in the future with “congestion pricing”. Eventually, the power companies will have all customers on a “time of use” (TOU) rate. They will charge more for electricity used during peak times (e.g. 4pm to 8pm) and less for electricity used at 3am. With those rates, and smart meters they will be able to cut demand peaks, and avoid having to build more generating capacity just to satisfy a 2 hour peak demand that exceeds existing generating capacity.

          1. It’s the flip side of congestion pricing. They offer you lower rates if you volunteer to let them shut of your power, or maybe just your HVAC in times of peak demand. It costs about $.08 per KWH to generate and deliver power from company owned generating facilities. If your local utility runs out of in-house capacity and has to go buy power on the spot market to fulfill demand it can cost up to $1.00 per KWH. If they are 10% short during the dinner hour, and have to go buy that power at 12.5 times what they are charging you for it, that can wipe out all their profit for the 24 hour period. So if they can get 10% shaved off that peak two hours (e.g. 4 pm to 6 pm) by turning off your large loads they save a bundle of money. It also means they can avoid spending a few hundred millions dollars on new generating plants. So if you don’t mind your air conditioner being cut off for an hour or two on hot afternoons, you can get lower rates 24/7, and the power company saves a bundle. Everybody’s happy.

            1. This whole effort to smooth out demand for electricity will result in people wanting to run their major appliances at non-peak times, like “Let’s do the laundry at 3 am.” This will lead inevitably to more complex and smarter appliances. Companies like Nest will come out with appliances or appliance controlling devices that can not only be programmed to run at desired times, but can sense when rates drop below certain levels, and then decide it’s time to run. This is a concept the utility industry is working toward. Meters will communicate with appliances and relay current rates, commands to run or not run. Look into the term “Zigbee” for more information.

            2. Oh, and I almost forgot, Google was trying to get into the business of providing electricity. Under electric deregulation rules, anyone can buy and sell power over the grid. Google could contract for electricity from wholesale generators, and then sell it to consumers at competitive prices. Analyzing information they gleaned from Nest thermostats, cell phones, search terms, location services, etc. They could cherry pick customers to whom they want to sell, because those customers are the most profitable to serve.

    1. The telemarketers will pay huge sums of money to know when a person is at home. Also, with many major auto makers putting Google maps in your car, they will have even more information on your movements.

  3. I never truly recognized how much I loathed google until this purchase, I really liked where nest was going, even have a Protect but I might not for long. Intrusive bastards.

  4. I bought the NEST thermostat, installed it, and my wife made me return it the same day.

    It sure looks pretty, however, being energy efficient, it allowed for too much fluctuation in temperature before it turned on or off. The house became drafty and cold before it kicked it, then too hot before it shut off. And… there is no “off” switch.

    1. “my wife made me return it the same day”

      If you had read the instructions, you would have seen it takes 12 days to learn your habits and learn how long it takes for your HVAC system to reach a desired temperature.

    2. There is a 12 day learning period for neat to accurately learn your usage behavior. And yes, there is manual mode as well as “off”. A simple turn of the dial is all it would have taken to find those options.

      1. I set the unit up manually… to function at the temps i wanted at the times i wanted. It still did not respond soon enough… to much play in the settings. Should I really need to wait 12 days to have accurate response time? I do not not consider that a desirable feature… And yes you can turn the dial and find an off button… but it is buried.

  5. I predict the next Nest device will do a urine analysis and catalog the results for “your health and protection”. The first market is for parents that are concerned their teenagers are hitting the hippie lettuce.

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