Connected Homes

By on Mar 30, 2018 in Technology

The internet of things has arrived. Connected devices get smarter every day. They learn our preferences for music, temperature, what time we like to wake up, and seemingly more and more about our daily routine.

Home-based devices offer many personal benefits and conveniences. Heavy traffic between home and the office? Alexa will warn you to leave early. Need to take out the garbage cans tonight before bed? Google Home will remind you.

Smart thermostats, such as those offered by Nest and ecobee, are also providing conveniences for utility companies to address peak power events.

Residents who sign up with their utility provider can authorize their smart thermostat to self-adjust, either up or down depending on weather, so that their home consumes less energy during peak hours. If the automatic setting is not comfortable, users can make their own adjustment and reset the temperature as needed.

Big Picture Benefits

“Being able to do things like shut off the AC from a smartphone when you accidently left it on is an innovative way to improve our lives. But, as connected thermostats become more common, there are bigger benefits possible,” said Matt Eggers, vice president of energy for Yardi.

One example is how clean energy sources become more viable as consumers participate in these programs. “Energy created by solar and wind can be intermittent because sunshine and wind speeds are constantly variable. Giving utilities a strategy to manage demand, for example by having temporary control over consumers’ thermostats, water heaters or electric vehicle chargers, allows them to bring on even more solar and wind sources,” said Eggers.

Smart thermostats also save money for utilities by using less power when it is most expensive. Power costs can vary throughout the day based on time of use pricing structures. When homes use less power during peak periods, utilities don’t have to spend as much on it by buying energy from secondary sources. Those savings are passed on to participating households in the form of rebates.

User Experience

I recently enrolled in the program, even though I was a little weary of giving my power company control over the temperature in my living room on certain days of the year. How did it work for me? Not perfectly, but to be fair, the problem was mostly caused by user error.

Where I live on the Central Coast of California, there are relatively few days that get above 90 degrees each year, and just as few nightly lows under 40 degrees. There is no need for air conditioning, and my heater is only turned on late at night and early in the morning.

When my home gets warm enough for the day, I simply turn the thermostat all the way down to 50. That way the heater won’t possibly come on until I want it to.

Unfortunately, that habit taught my thermostat to think I liked my home to be 50 degrees. So, when it came to a peak energy event, my thermostat automatically adjusted to 48 degrees overnight. Of course, I quickly reset the temperature when I woke up to a very chilly house.

If I had instead been turning the temperature down to 68 when I was warm enough every day, I’m quite sure my thermostat would have never guessed 48 degrees to be reasonable. It would have more likely set my heat to 66 during the high demand event.

Contact your utility provider to see what financial incentives are available in your area. It may be less expensive than you thought to gain the conveniences of having a smart thermostat in your home.