Smart thermostats: the gateway drug to true energy choice

Today, the choices consumers make about energy use are mostly based on how much and when energy is used, within a relatively limited framework. Energy choice tomorrow will mean something much different – technologies will enable consumers to decide how much energy they use, when they use it, what price they want to pay, and even where the electrons come from. This change is coming, and the bellwether is the smart thermostat. It’s the first step in the evolution from consumer to prosumer.

In the beginning, people had simple thermostats that were easy to operate: set the temperature with a dial or a tiny lever and adjust as needed. While they were easy to use, if you wanted to save energy while you were out or sleeping, you had to remember to adjust it manually. Next came programmable thermostats, where the occupant could set a schedule for the temperature range during a certain time of day, depending on occupancy or preference. You had more control, didn’t have to come home to a cold or hot house, but, unlike its predecessor, it was a bit more difficult to use. You need to actually program the thermostat, and studies have shown that the expected energy and cost savings are not always achieved, either because people continue to use their programmable thermostat like a manual one, or they didn’t set up the schedule correctly, overestimating operational time and comfort levels.

The latest advance in controlling interior temperature and occupant comfort, smart thermostats, are easily programmable and controlled through an app or via their friendly interfaces. They have cute names like “Nest” or “Ecobee” (which comes with a “Lil’bee” so it can more accurately monitor temperature and occupancy) and can sense when you are home or away and automatically adjust accordingly. An estimated 8 million households currently have smart thermostats, and this is expected to rise to 40 million households by 2020. While this isn’t a huge segment of the population (there are 126 million households in the US), it will change the way a lot of people approach their energy use – and the choices they make about it.

The next evolution in technology – which, in some cases, is already here– will give consumers a much more granular view of their energy use, and provide even more choices. Right now, consumers can see how much energy individual appliances use or automatically operate something based on the price of electricity, rather than a set schedule. Blockchain may make it possible to trace electrons from their renewable source to the electric bill, allowing consumers to decisively know that their energy use is sustainable and green. These are things that already exist in some form or another. Just imagine what’s next.



Michele Tihami

Country Manager – North America
DNV GL Energy

Join us in May at the Energy Executive Forum where Michele Tihami leads the main stage panel “Energy Choice: the customer-focus imperative.” Registration is now open. 

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