Some Texas residents who opted into programs that remotely raise thermostat temperatures during heat waves regretted that decision last week.
Power companies in multiple states offer promotions to enroll users into services that let the companies remotely adjust smart thermostats’ temperatures by a few degrees when energy demand is high. These programs apparently worked as intended during a heat wave in which the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) requested that thermostats be set at 78°F (26°C) or higher to cut electricity use. But some residents who didn’t realize what they’d signed up for were taken by surprise, according to local news reports.
Deer Park resident Brandon English said his wife and their daughters, including a 3-month-old, “woke up sweating” after an afternoon nap during which their thermostat had been remotely raised to 78°, according to a KHOU story on Thursday. English said he unenrolled the family’s thermostat from the program after discovering that it was being operated remotely.
“I wouldn’t want anybody else controlling my things for me… If somebody else can manipulate this, I’m not for it,” he said, according to KHOU.
Karen Rogers of Galveston also apparently didn’t realize that her family had signed up for a remote temperature-change program. After the family’s home “became noticeably hot and uncomfortable,” Rogers said she “found an activity log, and it said that a saving event was initiated by the utility company,” according to KPRC. She said she then opted out of the program, KPRC wrote.
In addition to making remote changes because of heat waves, a power company called CenterPoint Energy said it also conducts twice-yearly tests that raise homes’ temperatures for three hours at a time. CenterPoint said it conducted one such test on Wednesday last week, which happened to be during a stretch of very hot days. But the main purpose of these programs is to lower electricity use during extreme weather.
Remote changes of up to 4°F
Rogers was apparently enrolled in a service run by a New York-based company called EnergyHub, which contracts with thermostat makers and power companies. The company’s system can remotely change the temperature by up to 4°F (2.2°C), and EnergyHub estimates that in Texas, “there will be two to eight adjustment events from June 1st through September 30, 2021.”
“By participating in the Program, you agree to allow EnergyHub, Inc. and your thermostat provider to remotely access your thermostat to make brief, limited adjustments to your thermostat temperature setting at times of peak electricity demand in the summer. You may benefit by seeing a reduced electricity bill,” the EnergyHub website says. Customers “can opt out from your thermostat, mobile device, or web app simply by resetting your thermostat setting to any temperature that you desire.”
EnergyHub works with Nest, Ecobee, and other thermostats, and the company has deals with about 50 utilities nationwide. “Your utility may pay you for using your smart thermostat to create a smarter electric grid. See if a program is available in your area and start earning rewards today,” EnergyHub’s “Enroll my thermostat” page says.
One EnergyHub deal offers entries into a $5,000 sweepstakes in exchange for enrolling, but that isn’t the only method for signing up customers.
“Thermostat owners typically get an offer to participate in the program from their device manufacturer or energy provider via mobile app or email, [EnergyHub VP of customer solutions Erika] Diamond said, and ‘every participant actively agrees to the terms of the program and can opt out of a demand-response event at any time,'” according to Business Insider.
Ecobee’s “Community Energy Savings”
Houston-area residents complained about the remote temperature changes in a Reddit thread. While one person wrote, “This sounds like what happens when you get the subsidized thermostat,” others said it happened to them despite purchasing a smart thermostat on their own. “I have a Nest, self purchased, did not sign up for any type of energy saving program or anything,” one person wrote.
“My Ecobee that I purchased from Amazon automatically enrolled us in Eco+ feature set which has a setting called ‘Community Energy Savings’ which we could not turn off,” another person wrote. “It would randomly adjust our thermostat based on directives from ERCOT. It took Ecobee months to unenroll us from the program. We almost went back to a simple dumb thermostat because it took them so long to fix it.”
The thread included some debate over whether these users had been automatically enrolled or opted in themselves without reading the details. Companies that operate these programs say that users must provide their consent.
Ecobee partners with utilities for its Community Energy Savings program that does remote temperature changes. Ecobee says the process in which a user enables Community Energy Savings includes selecting the user’s utility provider from a list, viewing an offer from the provider, and then clicking “OK” to enroll.
Community Energy Savings is part of Ecobee’s Eco+ program, which includes several other features. “Eco+ cannot be disabled entirely once you have enrolled in a program. However, you can still disable it for the day or for the week. Eco+ can be disabled permanently only if you unenroll from the program by contacting your utility or its program manager,” Ecobee says.
Power cos. tell EnergyHub when to change temp
EnergyHub makes its remote thermostat changes at the direction of power companies. “When CenterPoint Energy, or another utility, initiates a curtailment event based on high temperatures or high demand, EnergyHub then starts the energy curtailment through the customers it has enrolled in its program,” CenterPoint Energy told KPRC last week.
In some cases, this is conducted as part of a test rather than due to an extreme weather event. CenterPoint Energy said it conducts “a test curtailment event” twice per year and that the most recent occurred on Wednesday, June 16 from 2 pm to 5 pm local time. CenterPoint Energy said it offers energy-efficiency programs through third-party service providers because “Texas law prevents us from offering programs directly to residential customers.”
San Antonio-based CPS Energy, meanwhile, offers a one-time bill credit of $85 per thermostat when customers enroll in its program, saying that “[d]uring summer peak energy demand days, we may briefly adjust your thermostat settings by a few degrees… You can opt out of participating in a peak demand event by manually adjusting your thermostat or through your thermostat’s app.”
Listing image by Getty Images | Grace Cary