Nest’s Smart Thermostat Gets Cooler 2.0 Update

In terms of gadgets that can reduce your energy use and help you save money on monthly utility bills, the Nest Learning Thermostat is one of the coolest. And it just got cooler.

Nest Labs announced the release of what is essentially version 2.0 of its wireless smart thermostat’s software, which can be accessed by an Internet-connected Web browser or by apps on mobile devices using Apple’s iOS operating system or Google’s Android operating system.

The Nest thermostat uses a person’s temperature settings to “learn” about heating and cooling habits and preferences so it can “auto-program” itself. The software upgrade enables the thermostat to present history data over 10 days, generate monthly reports, communicate when heating and cooling systems are turned on and show if setting changes were cause by the weather, a manual adjustment or an auto-away setting.

According to Nest Labs, the software upgrade will help thermostat users better understand how changes to temperature settings affect energy use. One cool feature of the upgrade, called Airwave, keeps an air conditioner fan running, instead of both the fan and the compressor, to keep cool air circulating and reduce energy use. According to Nest Labs, the feature can reduce electricity use by 30 percent for people in dry climates.

An EPA study found that while programmable thermostats can result in energy savings of 20 percent to 30 percent, the study found that only about 10 percent of people who have programmable thermostats program them. In a Nest Labs survey, however, the company found that almost all users of its learning thermostat use its automatic setback feature. The company says that’s because the thermostat only has to be used manually for a few days before beginning to program its own setback based on user preferences.

Do you use a programmable thermostat? If so, do you program it? If not, why?

Sources

Nest's Smart Thermostat Chills Out With New A/C Feature,” CNET, April 5, 2012.

How Con Ed Uses Smart Thermostats to Control ACs and Save Energy in an Emergency

Monday August 29, 2011
Posted at 08:09

When Thomas Edison started Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York in 1882, it supplied electricity to 59 customers in a square mile area in lower Manhattan. Almost 130 years later, the company’s descendent, Consolidated Edison Company of New York Inc. (Con Ed), is one of the largest public utilities in the United States, supplying electricity to three million residents throughout the New York City metro area.

There are a few issues when it comes to providing enough electricity for three million people. One of those issues is how to deal with a surge in electricity use, since electricity can’t be stored and has to be supplied to the electric grid continuously every day.

For example, when Con Ed set records for peak electricity use in early August, consumption surged because people ran their air conditioners harder in order to beat back a sweltering heat wave that baked much of the country. In all, the electric utility said that more than 1 trillion watt hours of electricity were consumed over a four-day period, which is roughly the equivalent to the amount of electricity that Vermont uses in two months.

To help with electricity supply issues derived from surges in consumption similar to the four-day period earlier this month, Con Ed has implemented a plan that allows it to remotely control the central air conditioners of some customers. Con Ed installs “smart” thermostats in the homes of those who agree to have them that provide the utility with the ability to cycle connected air conditioners on and off.

The 5 Steps of Con Ed’s Energy-Saving Smart Thermostat Plan

1. Recruiting — The first thing Con Ed has to do is convince New Yorkers to sign up for the program, which allows the utility to switch their central air conditioning off at its discretion. The electric utility provides the smart thermostat, which can be programmed by smartphone, for free. Other incentives include a $25 rebate check for residences and a $50 check for small businesses, as well as the promise of saving money on electric bills. So far, 23,600 electric customers have signed up for the program.

2. Monitoring — Con Ed continuously analyzes weather models at its Manhattan headquarters 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, the utility’s offices in the boroughs continually monitor the status of underground power equipment. When an event, such as an overloaded transformer, triggers an alert code, a network map displays the affected area in yellow, orange or red, depending on the severity of the problem.

3. Escalating — Once an alert code has been triggered, Con Ed responds with a heightened awareness and watches for further developments. If a significant ongoing event occurs, such as another massive heat wave like the one earlier in August that threatened the stability of the entire grid, the utility sets up a situation room to coordinate emergency measures. According to Con Ed, its situation rooms are designed to be used where they’re most needed and can be set up virtually anywhere.

4. Making the Call — When there’s a power emergency, Con Ed uses individual commanders to manage the emergency in 12-hour shifts. If the decision is made to cycle customers’ central air conditioners off and on to save power, the utility uses its “implementation contractor” to send shut-down and start-up commands via radio signals to tens of thousands of smart thermostats.

5. Shutting Down and Starting Up Air Conditioners — Air conditioners are targeted in areas made up of neighborhoods. Once the decision is made to cycle customers’ air conditioners on and off, shut-down and start-up signals are sent every 30 minutes, resulting in a cycle of 30 minutes on, 30 minutes off. Each area that’s targeted for cycling can ease electricity demand by up to 33 megawatts. Although that amount is a fraction of the 13,000 megawatts used on a very hot day (the record set earlier in August was 13,189 megawatts), the utility says it’s enough to prevent overloads and blackouts.

Sources

How Con Ed Saves the Power Grid During Heat Waves,” Wired, July 26, 2011.

Letting the Utility Run the Thermostat

Tuesday August 16, 2011
Posted at 09:00

In the wake of the recent electricity shortages in Texas, ERCOT is considering a plan to allow the utility to directly control customers' thermostats:

The Dallas Morning News reports that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas is working on a program that would allow engineers to control home thermostats to increase conservation effectiveness in times of high demand.

“Demand response is probably the best tool that could be implemented quickly because it takes several years to build a [power] generator,” ERCOT chief executive Trip Doggett told the newspaper."

UPDATE: Baltimore Gas & Electric has already implemented a plan along these lines, and it hasn't been terribly popular with those who chose to opt in:

On one of the hottest days in recorded Baltimore history, 72,000 residences were without air conditioning for at least six hours. BGE also used its radio-controlled switches to partially cut air conditioning for an additional 278,000 homes.

Many customers said they were entirely without air conditioning from late morning until after 8 p.m. on a day when the official temperature hit 106 and the air pollution index blew past the "unhealthy for certain groups" zone and into "unhealthy for everybody" territory.

BGE swears people who signed up for the cutoff plan, designed to save energy and keep the grid from overloading, should have known what to expect in exchange for their "Peak Rewards" bill credits.

"We have represented the program fairly," Mark Case, the utility's senior vice president for regulation and strategy, told this newspaper."