Microsoft and Ford announce a partnership ahead of the New York International Auto Show that will see upcoming Ford electric vehicles integrated with Microsoft's Hohm software, which monitors utility consumption in homes and makes recommendations on what users can do to save energy. Electric cars have the potential to become the most energy-intensive item in drivers' homes and to exert great pressure on the electrical grid. In order to make the process more efficient, Microsoft and Ford intend to use Hohm to provide information to customers and utilities on the steps they can take to make electric cars less of a resource drain.
Microsoft and Ford will partner on making the automaker's electric cars more
energy-efficient, the companies said in a joint announcement March 31.
Specifically, the Microsoft Hohm platform will be offered as a cloud-based
energy-management tool for owners of Ford's future electric cars, performing
functions such as reporting the most optimal time to plug in a vehicle for
The announcement took place in Ford's area at the New York International
Auto Show, slated to run in Manhattan's
voluminous Jacob K.
April 2 to 11. Ford CEO Alan Mulally came
onstage to say the partnership with Microsoft was part of an initiative to make
its customers' interactions with the utility grid "more efficient,"
especially considering the potential drain that thousands of new electrical
cars could put on the system. Ford plans on using Hohm for electric vehicles
starting sometime in 2011.
Mulally said Ford intended to "electrify our platforms" over the
next few years, with five new hybrid vehicles due on the market by 2012. He
then unveiled the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, which will use the Microsoft-designed
SmartGauge with EcoGuide to give drivers long-term data on their fuel
efficiency. Mulally claimed the vehicle, which will debut later in the year, is
50 percent more efficient than comparably sized luxury vehicles.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer then appeared
on a giant screen, via video link from Redmond,
Wash., to talk about the partnership. After
saying Hohm "allows customers to better understand energy usage" and
save an "average of 10 percent" on their utility bills, Ballmer went
on to say that the partnership would ultimately benefit two groups: utility
companies, which could use data from Hohm to "better understand and
manage" the energy demands from electric cars on the grid, and customers,
who could use the software to determine how, when and where to best charge
Hohm takes user input about energy choices and makes recommendations about how
to adjust energy expenditures to save money. Hohm's analytics for performing
its calculations are licensed from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and
the Department of Energy. An electric vehicle has the potential to become the
largest energy-consuming element of a typical household; in that context, were
Hohm to recommend habits such as plugging in the car late at night instead of
during peak hours, users could save a good deal of money.
Ford is also examining the possibility of a smartphone application that
would allow users to remotely view an electric car's charge status.
Microsoft originally launched Hohm in July 2009, as part of a larger green
IT initiative that included the company's Environmental Sustainability
Dashboard for Microsoft Dynamics AX, which had been released that February.
Code-named Niagara, after the birthplace of modern
electricity and one of Nikola Tesla's experiment sites, the platform aims to
assist executives and IT administrators in monitoring energy costs and is
designed to run on any Web browser, including Internet Explorer, Firefox and
Safari. From the beginning, Microsoft made a point of highlighting its
partnerships with utility companies to allow their customers' energy
consumption information to be automatically uploaded to Hohm, and four such
companies signed on at the outset.
Hohm asks the user for a postal code and e-mail address, and then to fill
out a home profile, answering questions such as, "What type of energy does
your water heater use?" In return, Hohm offers a home-energy report with
energy-savings recommendations ("Lower the temperature setting on your
water heater") alongside an estimated cost breakdown.
Along with Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for Microsoft Dynamics AX,
Microsoft's green IT initiatives are directly competitive with Google's PowerMeter
software tool, which measures home energy consumption in near-real time via
"smart" metering devices installed by a utility. As part of its own
initiative, Google has partnered with power companies in California,
Missouri and Kentucky,
as well as Canada.
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.