Thermostat gives utilities control of residential A/C

May 8, 2000
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FARMINGTON, CT and ALAMEDA, CA — Sustained high temperatures have been forecast for this summer. Contractors in the Midwest have picked up their pace as temperatures started soaring a bit prematurely.

How will electric utilities cope with the increased demand?

Carrier Corp. and Silicon Energy, a company specializing in energy e-business and enterprise energy management (EEM) solutions, are teaming up this summer to offer utilities “ComfortChoice,” a new twist on programs that help utilities keep a handle on residential cooling loads.

This Internet-based, residential demand-side management program uses Carrier’s emWare®-enabled, Internet-communicating thermostat and Silicon Energy’s energy management software to allow utilities to temporarily adjust homeowners’ temperature setpoints during peak demand times.

Homeowners have flexibility to override a temperature setback directly from their thermostat or remotely over the Web, Carrier added.

This charter program, scheduled to run from June through September, will allow utilities to offer their residential customers the energy management interface (EMi), an Internet-communicating programmable thermostat designed, manufactured, and marketed by Carrier Electronics.

Carrier senior manager of PR and communications Jon Shaw said that the program, which is just being introduced, does not have any utilities signed up as of now. Carrier and Silicon Energy are offering the program to utilities and, based on the results of a pilot program with Puget Sound Energy (see accompanying article), they expect healthy participation.

Each utility involved with the program will have the system installed in 50 test homes, Shaw said. It will be up to the utilities to determine which contractors would do the installations, although Shaw said he rather expects that Carrier dealers would be given a preference, since they are already familiar with the manufacturer’s programmable thermostat.

Connectivity and control

The system uses emWare’s device networking software to remotely monitor and control the thermostats.

The software enables the communication and data transmission to and from the homeowner’s EMi, the Internet and the utility. AT&T Global Network Services will provide nationwide network connectivity.

John Woolard, ceo of Silicon Energy, said that “With this program, utilities can reduce wholesale energy purchase costs during peak hours. An innovative approach to energy load management, the program allows utilities to temporarily adjust temperature without interfering. This, in turn, means improved electric system reliability for all customers.”

Using a Web browser interface, a utility operator accesses Silicon Energy’s energy curtailment program to initiate a thermostat setback, specifying how many degrees will be changed and for what duration.

At any time, the homeowner can choose to override the setpoint change directly through the EMi, and a message will be transmitted via the Internet back to the utility. The customer can also remotely access the thermostat from a Web browser to obtain status, adjust setpoints, and perform overrides.

Companies predict benefits

“This program offers cost savings to utilities, more reliable comfort and control to residential customers, and greater energy conservation to all of us who are committed to protecting the environment,” said Kenneth Fox, vice president and general manager of Carrier Electronics.

“By reducing demand during peak hours this summer, utilities could realize substantial savings depending upon wholesale energy prices, marginal generation costs, and the number of homes participating in the program. Home-owners can enjoy lower-than-normal electric bills.

“This reduced power consumption will lead to more reliable power supply and mitigate the need for increased production capacity, which reduces investment, preserves natural resources, and lowers harmful air emissions.”

“Energy management is one of the key applications which will take advantage of the networked, embedded intelligence that’s finding its way into the items of everyday life,” said Dan Greenberg, director embedded Internet and pervasive computing practice for Harbor Research.

“We anticipate a warm welcome by utilities and energy services companies (ESCOs) that want to offer leading-edge packages to their customers.”

Sidebar: Successful pilot

Carrier and Silicon Energy have just successfully completed a similar residential program with Puget Sound Energy (PSE) in the Seattle, WA, area, where more than 100 households tested technology that let homeowners monitor and adjust their home heating systems while they were away.

The program allowed PSE to activate thermostat setbacks to help with energy load management analysis. Feedback from test participants will help PSE better serve its residential customers.

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