Smart, Connected Thermostats: A Better Mousetrap for the Energy Industry

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Build a better mousetrap, they say, and the world will beat a path to your door. This saying came to mind recently when I was reading an article about a new type of beehive that makes it easier to gather honey, which apparently is a bit tricky because the bees don’t much like humans disrupting their hives. Maybe I work too much, but the article somehow got me thinking about energy efficiency and homeowners.

We in the energy industry really want homeowners to be able to use energy as efficiently as possible – it’s our version of honey. But to many homeowners, saving energy is disruptive to the normal flow of life. Just like those bees when the beekeepers harvest honey, they can get a little cranky when faced with any disruption.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, then, if we could help homeowners save energy with little to no disruption?  Some energy efficiency measures, such as installing new windows, will always be disruptive. But others that can save significant amounts of energy are almost seamless for homeowners. Smart Wi-Fi thermostats, like Wiser Air from Schneider Electric North America, fit in that category.

Programmable thermostats have been around for decades. The problem is, few of them actually get programmed because they aren’t terribly intuitive. Or, users program the device but routinely over-ride it – and forget to reset it.

The newer breed of Wi-Fi enabled thermostats is changing the equation. They have far more intuitive user interfaces, increasing the likelihood they get programmed. Typically, users can even program them using an app on their smart phone, and make changes on the fly as necessary. But programming alone is not enough; the programs homeowners enter need to be efficient. I don’t mean setting temps that are just short of boiling in the summer or that require parkas in the winter, but just being smart about when we use energy. If nobody’s home, change the AC temp a few degrees, things like that. Some Wi-fi thermostats, including Wiser Air, even have advanced self-learning algorithms that help homeowners automatically make smart energy choices.

Of course homeowners also want flexibility should plans change. Wi-Fi enabled thermostats make changes a breeze, enabling homeowners to adjust the device with a simple tap on an app in their smart phone, tablet or computer – from anywhere they have an Internet connection. Going to be home earlier than expected in winter? Bump up the heat accordingly before you leave work. By making saving energy fit into their lifestyles, Wi-Fi thermostats make it easier for people – without causing disruption.

But there are those times when utilities need people to use less energy, when either generation or transmission capacity is constrained. Wi-Fi thermostats make it easier for homeowners to help balance the grid in these times of need, which typically last just a few hours. Homeowners can sign up with their local utility to participate in programs where they agree to reduce energy use during such events, in exchange for incentives ranging from a one-time signup bonus to payments for each time they reduce energy use when asked. Connected thermostats make it easy for homeowners to be aware of these short-term events and understand how they are contributing to a stable electrical power system.

A thermostat such as Wiser Air with advanced technology made for both homeowner ease of use and utility compatibility really is a better mousetrap (or perhaps beehive), because it addresses issues that to date have hampered the use of programmable thermostats. Those issues include ease of use, the ability to override programs for just a few minutes at a time – instead of all day – and the ability to control the device from anywhere the homeowner may be. It also provides a new level of information that I suspect will get homeowners more engaged with and aware of their energy use.

Explore the benefits of a Wi-Fi thermostat. Check out Wiser Air.

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