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The smart thermostat market continues to get crowded. Amazon recently debuted its entry, a partnership with Honeywell Home and Resideo. Meanwhile, Google unveiled the latest version of the Nest, and other firms are adding products for both residential and consumer use.

One of the features being promoted this year is the way smart thermostats can help consumers lower their energy bills and promote sustainability. The Google Nest now offers a feature called Nest Renew. Using a feature called Energy Shift, compatible Nest thermostats can help users automatically shift electricity usage for heating and cooling to times when energy is cleaner or less expensive. Other manufacturers offer similar demand response platforms and work directly with utilities, such as Resideo’s Connected Savings.

“Some of our best work comes during extreme weather events — such as when forest fires or an unexpected freeze threaten the supply of energy,” said Beth Crouchet, utility solutions leader at Resideo.

A study completed by Parks Associates indicates 23% of U.S. households with Wi-Fi who recently bought a smart thermostat did so after prompts from an incentive, discount, or rebate from their energy provider. Better control, alerts, and automation allow smarter usage of thermostats, which in turn allows smarter usage of the equipment, said Jason Wilson, residential controls product manager at Johnson Controls.


Partnering with Local Utilities

Several thermostat manufacturers partner with local utilities to control usage when the electric grid is most stressed out and when prices on the energy market are high. Crouchet said customers volunteer to enroll in programs that allow their thermostats to help manage demand on the grid. In exchange for their help, they receive rebates, incentives, or optimized energy-efficiency product. Wilson said Johnson Control’s York communicating thermostats pair with variable-capacity York HVAC systems to connect directly to the electric grid, which gives local utilities the ability to curtail power usage during periods of peak demand or high electricity prices, with a homeowner’s permission.

Some of these programs have caused concern with customers who didn’t fully understand what they agreeing to. There were stories in the media during the summer about customers in Texas who were surprised when their thermostats raised their set point on their own. This caused some to raise privacy issues.

“Resideo is committed to safeguarding the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all physical and electronic information assets to ensure that regulatory, operational, and contractual requirements are fulfilled,” Crouchet said. “The No. 1 requirement of our software suite is to ensure that customer data remains safe.”

“Contractors are best positioned to help consumers make the choice on their heating and cooling needs, and increasingly contractors are offering smart, connected thermostats.”
Beth Crouchet
Utility Solutions Leader Resideo

New Technologies Increase Savings

New technologies are helping consumers get even more energy savings from their smart thermostats. Smart thermostats can optimize a home's schedule by using geofencing to determine the best times to allow for additional energy savings, Crouchet said. Resideo's new Energy Care service, available for Honeywell Home smart thermostat users, allows customers deeper savings by understanding how the home responds to heating and cooling. By incorporating hyper-local weather forecasts and air infiltration, or the amount of air leakage a home has, the Energy Care product produces deeper savings than a schedule alone, she continued.

The biggest benefits come from the way smart thermostats are incorporating into the smart home ecosystem, Wilson said. This includes a range of products from coffee makers to security systems. York just launched a Universal Thermostat Adapter, which allows York Affinity equipment to interface with third-party thermostats, giving homeowners the power to choose their controls. 

“From my experience, homeowners are gravitating towards these types of products due to their ability to tie into home automation systems along with convenience and control that mobile app usage allows,” he said. “These features, however, do directly correlate to energy savings.”

Whatever a consumer’s goal, contractors need to help them find the best thermostat to meet their needs. Crouchet said professionally installed thermostats offered by contractors are the most advanced. They can be calibrated specifically to the home and equipment — syncing to a humidification or de-humidification system — as well as the consumer's comfort and savings preferences.

“Contractors are best positioned to help consumers make the choice on their heating and cooling needs, and increasingly, contractors are offering smart, connected thermostats,” she said. “Resideo recognizes that a consumer's relationship with a heating and cooling professional is the key to meeting the consumer's comfort needs while simultaneously increasing the home's efficiencies. Our goal is to make the attachment of energy saving solutions as easy as possible.”


Hotel Owners Have the Same Concerns as Homeowners, Only on a Bigger Scale

Commercial customers are also interested in controlling energy costs, and a new smart thermostat entry is aimed at helping them do that. VTech started as a maker of educational toys for children and phone systems. The company is leveraging its connections in the hospitality industry to introduce a smart thermostat for that industry. Chris Conrad, product marketing director for VTech, said company executives haven’t had any discussions about expanding into the residential market.

E-Smart W960 Wireless Thermostat.

STAY SMART: A new product helps hotel owners better control their energy products. (Courtesy of VTech)

The issue for hotels is the same as homes — avoiding heating and cooling empty rooms. The problem is multiplied for hotels. The VTech E-Smart W960 includes occupancy detection. Some busy hotels will have 95% occupancy, but others could get as low as 50%.

“Wireless communications are one of the cornerstones of our business, and it made sense to leverage one of our core competencies,” Conrad said.

The E-Smart W960 features a very clean design. Conrad said that level of style in an affordable product had been missing in this market. Of course, rolling out any new product in this era of supply shortages has created challenges, but Conrad said VTech is able to meet them.

“We feel we’re as able to manage it as anyone,” he said. “Everyone is in the same boat.”