Because utilities want to (sometimes) control your smart thermostat


One of modern the most satisfying aspects of life is the composition in AC and sitting back while the room magically maintains your chosen temperature. But last week, owners of smart thermostats in Texas reported that the magic was gone: their devices were being set at 4 degrees above the owner’s desired temperature, as if to reprimand them for trying to get them. too much comfortable during a heat wave. Very much outrage he followed.

The Tostani Tostosi had stumbled upon a precarious ball of electricity supply and demand. When they bought their smart thermostats, they chose a voluntary program called Smart Savers Texas offered by EnergyHub, a software company that manages the program for utility customers, including CenterPoint Energy. In times of high demand, such as an uninterrupted heat wave, they had agreed to allow that 4 degree bump. During such a “temperature regulation event,” the user can manually cancel the increase, according to EnergyHub, but lose their ticket to a lottery – up to $ 5,000 paid towards a year of electric bills. Anyone wishing to exit this question response program can only cancel.

Basically, endure a slightly warmer room to ensure that your AC doesn’t help crash the network, in which case you and everyone else should be able to cope. very much warmer rooms. EnergyHub is one of many companies running on-demand response programs across the country, and its program is agnostic to devices, so it won’t be users of a single brand of thermostat who will notice growth. “The real benefit of these programs is a small inconvenience – potentially not an inconvenience at all – to making sure everyone has an HVAC and lighting during these extreme weather events, which I think is becoming increasingly prevalent,” says Erika Diamond, vice president of solutions. customers in EnergyHub.

A CenterPoint Energy representative emailed a statement to WIRED explaining the partnership: “When CenterPoint Energy initiates a reduction event based on high temperatures or high demand, EnergyHub then initiates energy reduction through customers who wrote in their program. “


According to the email, the utility does a “test limitation” twice a year, and did one on June 16 from 2 to 5 p.m. The way Texas’s outrage of size developed, you’d think it was all a surprise. But EnergyHub has not only run the program for eight years, but has similar programs with 50 other utilities across the country, with about 500,000 households enrolled. It starts two to eight temperature regulations in Texas per summer, about the same as its national average. Enrollment incentives can vary depending on the utility – discounts on energy bills, for example – but the goal is the same: Enrich customers to help keep the network afloat.

In other words, these programs reduce demand when supply is low. “The grid is sized to keep supply and demand in instant equilibrium, because it’s so expensive to conserve electricity,” says David Victor, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, who co-authored a most recent report on the United States network. Any electricity generated must be used immediately. “If storage becomes ubiquitous and affordable, then this could completely transform the way the network is operated. But now, to move electrons across the network, and for the network to be stable, you have to agree to the ‘supply and demand’, he continues.

The utility is fully aware of the voltage that a heat wave puts on the grid, with all those AC units singing. They can also predict how demand will fluctuate during the day, for example when people return home from work around 5 or 6 pm and turn on their systems. This is also when the supply is tight – the utility can’t just generate as much power at a given time. “During these periods, the network is very sensitive – only a percentage or two of total demand can have a huge impact,” Victor says. “That’s why there’s such a strong push to find strategies where a little demand can be reduced or shifted to a different part of the day. That would then have a big impact on total electricity demand.”

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