Google and the smart grid

Reading about Google’s acquisition of Nest in the press has interested me this week. Not because of the companies supposed need for better industrial designers, but because of what’s been dubbed the “smart grid” the idea that Nest, when linked up to a countries’ utility providers, can optimise the flow of electricity and gas across a country, in turn saving the consumer money, and the planet, the natural resources we drastically need.

It got me thinking about other opportunities to optimise “the grid” or, put another way, a public utility consumed to a significant degree.

My mind then wandered to transport and Google’s recent acquisition of Waze, the Israeli navigation service that sucks up data from people in their cars and uses it to optimise everyones journey. This technology seems particularly powerful when looking to optimise people’s use of public transport.

Consider a situation like I was in recently, sitting in a cafe waiting to head to my next meeting. Google Now pops up and tells me it’s time to leave. It knows where I am going and when I need to be there by virtue of my calendar. But what it also knows is how busy the road network is and thus optimises my journey based on the data it has. Don’t get the 38! Shaftesbury Avenue is reporting strong traffic. Instead get the 55 and walk from Tottenham Court Road you’ll save 10 minutes. My journey has already been optimised once, as it’s planned the route and told me when to leave based on bus arrival times, but it’s then been optimised further by congestion data from further down the road.

Efficiency gains like this are hugely important for Governments as they try to reduce the environmental impact public transportation has while also saving costs as we know they love to do. Given Nest’s ambitions to work more closely with utility providers, it’s not unfathomable to think that Google could be marching on to being the de facto regulator of future smart grids.

Daniel Bower

Blogging about platform regulation: algorithms, interoperability, kill zones as well as other bits and bobs. Read about my research, or read more about me.