A few days ago, a group of enterprising bloggers discovered that Microsoft had just trademarked the name 'Hohm.' Today, we can finally reveal what Hohm is really about. At its core, Hohm is Microsoft's answer to Google's PowerMeter and similar services. Hohm is dedicated to giving consumer's information about potential energy savings, while at the same time connecting those consumers whose energy providers already use smart meter technology with real-time information about their own energy consumption at home.

It's also noteworthy that Hohm was developed on top of Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform.

Like most similar projects, Microsoft's Hohm will hook into the data streams from utilities once they bring their smart grids online Correction: Hohm can bring in data even from utilities that don't support smart meters yet, as long as the utility provider provides a data stream of some form to Microsoft, even if it is not real-time. For now, Microsoft is only rolling out support for 4 utilities (Puget Sound Energy, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Seattle City Light, and Xcel Energy), but it's only a matter of time before more utilities will roll out similar projects and smart meters, and as Microsoft's Troy Batterberry, the product unit manager for Hohm, told us in an interview last week, Microsoft plans to make a long-term investment here and support data streams from utilities that offers them. Batterberry also mentioned that Microsoft plans to announce a number of additional partners in the next few months.

Models, Predictions, Education

Besides bringing in real-time information from smart meters, though, Hohm also provides users with interesting data about their own energy consumption even when their utilities are not online yet. All a user has to do is answer some basic questions and Hohm will provide an estimate of a household's energy consumption. For a full assessment, Hohm can ask over 200 questions and the more answers a user provides, the better the estimate will be. In the back-end, Microsoft is constantly tweaking these models based on the real-life data it receives from users whose utilities already allow data to be downloaded to Hohm. Microsoft's Troy Batterberry also told us that these models are already quite reliable, but will only get better as more users enter their data and as Microsoft gets to compare its models with more real-time data from its partners.

Batterberry also stressed that Microsoft wants to make Hohm useful for users right now, not just those whose utilities use smart meters. To educate these users, Hohm also features a large section with resources and tips for saving energy.

Good Now - But Will Get Better Once Real-Time Data is Available for More Users

A simple model, of course, wouldn't be very interesting if users can't experiment with different settings like switching out their standard light bulbs for energy-saving ones, for example. Hohm does a nice job here, but in the end, the real advantage of using Hohm or similar systems will only be unlocked once users can get real-time (or almost real-time) access to their energy data. Once that happens, the "Prius-effect" can then set in, where users change their behavior based on the real-time feedback about their car's (or, in this case, their house's) real-time energy consumption.