Microsoft Wants to Be the Google of Utility Data

Thu Mar 17, 2011 5:57pm IST

When it comes to looking for the best prices for electricity to charge your plug-in vehicle, Microsoft wants to be at the top of the search results. The desktop and internet application company wants to be the data source for all things utility by creating a national database of tariff and rate plan information. The Microsoft Utility Rate Service (MURS) will be available via subscriptions to government agencies, power providers, auto makers, and EV charging equipment companies.

Microsoft's Director of Business Development Warren Dent, in a meeting with organizations involved in EV infrastructure in Portland, Oregon, explained that the company intends to have utility rate data available for 17 metropolitan areas, with all but three (Detroit, Denver, and Chicago) located in coastal states. It's not a coincidence that these areas closely align with Ford's electric vehicle launch schedule.

Ford is relying on Microsoft's service for its "value charging" program that will enable EV owners to program their vehicles to charge based on when utility rates are lowest.

When the service is complete, pricing data would be relayed from the utility to Microsoft to Ford's data operations to Ford vehicles. Customers would be able to program vehicle charging via the onboard computer or a mobile application.

This pathway is significant because it puts the controls into the vehicle itself and cuts out EV charging equipment companies, who are looking to develop their own services in partnership with smart grid service providers. Obviously, the vehicle needs to be plugged in to charge, but the vehicle would send the signal to the charging equipment to start or stop. Automaker will take a variety of approaches as to how much intelligence they will put in the vehicles.Microsoft does not have any interest in interfacing directly with consumers. As with Ford, MURS subscribers will use their own branding to interact with the public, according to Dent.Microsoft is partnering with one to three utilities in each region to get access to the data, including many of the largest in the country, including Duke Energy, Xcel Energy, and Portland General Electric.

Microsoft wants to be a leader in providing services to utilities and their customers, and is leveraging the company's Azure Marketplace DataMarket database infrastructure. The managing of EVs is seen as a driving force for establishing a platform for what will be a huge opportunity in smart grid data services. As examples, Pike Research estimates that investment in information technology for managing electric vehicles will reach $371 million annually in 2015, while smart grid data analytics services revenue will top $1.1 billion.

Microsoft is creating its own standards for storing and sharing utility data in an industry where standardization hasn't been necessary since utilities in Texas have not needed to have software or communications equipment that speaks the same language as that in Oregon or Illinois. With this early investment and development work, Microsoft may be temporarily pulling ahead of companies such as IBM, Accenture, SAP, Oracle and yes, Google, which also want a large slice of the energy information services pie. But they are sure to have company before long.

John Gartner is a senior analyst at Pike Research and a founder of the Matter Network.

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