In early 2008 B.C. Hydro announced a plan to equip every home and business in B.C. with smart power meters over a period of five years at a cost of up to $530 million.
While that cost is no doubt reflected in the utility's recent rate increases, as well as the move to a two-step metering system where you pay more per kilowatt past a certain limit, the bottom line is that smart meters are a proven way to save money. When people can monitor their electrical usage in real time, and see the spikes after they turn on their clothes dryer or home theatre system they are more prone to conserve.
B.C. Hydro estimates that power savings could be as much as 20 per cent.
Google, which is in the process of launching Google PowerMeter, is a little more conservative but believes smart meters can cut power usage by five to 15 per cent. Yes, Google.
Let's go back a bit. Last year when oil was $150 a barrel and climbing, and climate change was THE major issue of the day, Google released a groundbreaking document titled Clean Energy 2030: Google's Proposal for Reducing U.S. Dependence on Fossil Fuels.
While the company's leaders invested heavily in what will one day be the largest solar energy company in the world, Google also came up with dozens of ideas to facilitate the switch to renewable energy, while also recognizing that the easiest way to meet future power demands is to become more efficient and conserve the output we currently have.
For a company's whos' motto is "Don't Be Evil" it was a serious paper, and one that is being taking seriously by the world governments and environmental groups.
One of their concepts, the Google PowerMeter, is a part of the plan and the beta version was presented last week. It is already being tested in the homes of Google employees, and promises to be a little more ambitious than B.C. Hydro's program. B.C. Hydro's meter is attached to the house, while Google's system would attach meters to fuse boxes or outlets to gauge the impact of specific activities.
It's unknown if Google's system will work with B.C. Hydro's meters, although B.C. Hydro also envisions a day when people can visit their website to review power usage, and Google's system is being designed to work with a wide range of meters. In other words, it looks good for British Columbians.
If the product is widely adopted, Google says a 10 per cent reduction in only half of American homes would be the equivalent of removing eight million cars from the road.
In my view B.C. Hydro can't hook up the new meters fast enough
Raven, sweet Raven
For a while now I've been promoting a website called www.splashup.com that includes a free online image editor that is surprisingly powerful and easy to use. It could never replace Adobe Photoshop for professional use, but it's enough for the majority of people that use image editors to do simple things like make collages, resize photos for websites, or take the red eye out of photos.
Recently I became aware of another online tool called Raven, created by Aviary (www.aviary.com). Aviary has put a wide range of image editing tools online, from image editors to color palettes, allowing you to create and manipulate images in your web browser. Recently they also released a beta of Raven, which is a surprisingly powerful vector image creator.
Basically, vector images are based on defined curves and shapes, while other images, called bitmaps, are an assembly of individual pixels. Vector art is more complicated to create and there are limitations to what you depict, but at the same time you get a clean look and the art can be resized infinitely without any pixilation.
Most graphic designers use both, preferring vectors software for designing logos and text, then converting back to bitmap for print or web.
With products like Raven, Phoenix, Peacock, and Toucan (and a 3D modeling program is also apparently on the way) Aviary has created a professional suite of online graphic arts tools. This suite of Web 2.0 software will never replace Adobe in publishing houses and graphics studios, but it's more than adequate for web designers and amateurs.
Unlike Adobe, where you pay through the teeth for the software up front, Aviary lets you subscribe to their services for $9.99 a month, or $100 for the full year. You can also use their basic tools for free for a limited time so you can try them for yourself.
Microsoft goes retail
Microsoft followed in the footsteps of Apple (once again?) by announcing plans this week to launch a series of Microsoft stores. While retail electronics chains took it as a stab in the back Microsoft promised to share their "learnings" - the most annoying PR flack buzzword of the day - with other retailers selling Microsoft products. Predictably you can purchase all of Microsoft's software, as well as a growing number of Microsoft hardware devices like the Zune, Xbox 360, peripheral keyboards and cameras, and the soon to be launched Microsoft Smartphone. Maybe you'll be able to buy third-party computers and devices as well, it's too soon to tell.
I wonder if they'll take dollars, or whether you'll have to purchase Microsoft points.