Smart Thermostats

My colleague Dani sent me this chart last week:

I believe this is more or less a proxy for smart wifi-enabled thermostats in the US.

Those would be Nest, Honeywell Lyric, Hive thermostats and a lot of others too.

Those are pretty big jumps from 6.5% to 8.9% to 11.4% given that people don’t generally swap out thermostats unless they are doing a renovation or building a new home. Maybe there is more thermostat swapping going on outside of those “construction” moments than I would expect.

In a few years, more than 20% of homes will have heating and cooling systems that can be “managed” by software, either on-premises or, more likely, in the cloud.

That is pretty exciting.

I wonder what level of adoption is “critical mass” or “escape velocity” ?

Certainly 50% would be, maybe 25% will be.

I really like the area of networks, platforms, and protocols that will allow us to efficiently manage our energy consumption. It has been hindered to date by a closed “last mile”, but that is changing and I think the opportunity is approaching.

#hacking energy

Comments (Archived):

  1. scottythebody

    This area is going to be a big deal, ultimately, for improving efficiency and, potentially, flexible delivery. That being said, it’s also, with 100% certainty, going to be riddled with *major* security issues that will be far more kinetic than most people are used to.

    1. DJL

      I said what you said because I didn’t read far enough down!Scanning for thermostats blinking “default security settings” has already begun.

      1. scottythebody

        Good point. Any device that sells, (pulls number out of butt), say, more than 50,000 units is going to be a big enough target. A former Gartner analyst I used to read once said “you can sell 50,000 of anything”.

  2. awaldstein

    As do I.Likes and dislikes:-With data you can create comparisons.I like that I now receive comparison statements telling me how much more or less energy i use than people on my floor of my building.-I hate that it doesn’t provide any guidance to change usage specifically.-No way to look and understanding these networks from a hybrid grid perspective. Huge blockchain direction that is not being utilized. Pitched new CTO of NY on this to a somewhat lukewarm reception.-Went through the process with a Green Mtn Energy Rep at the market last Sat and it took 30 minutes for her to manually switch my power sources to a series of green ones. Cost me only $4 a month more but so hard and so difficult.Important topic.NYC could lead here. All cities are mostly in the same boat as spoke to the person trying to do it in London.

    1. Matt Zagaja

      My organization in the Boston metro area has a program with municipalities that switches everyone to a green supplier by default unless they choose otherwise. For most customers this also meant a price decrease on their bill. Sadly Boston has not signed on yet, but my former city (Cambridge) had.…. Lots of good work by my colleagues on this front.

      1. awaldstein

        Interesting and thanks.Curious that you are using what appears as such a low key approach to marketing as this topic is on fire and obviously critically important.Personally I think that any approach that doesn’t address the lack of visibility across the multiple grids and doesn’t encourage a community of entrepreneurial participation is somewhat missing the larger picture.I do applaud you and your org though for taking action!

  3. Abhay Shah

    Maybe there is more thermostat swapping going on outside of those “construction” moments than I would expect.Our local electric company occasionally offers rebates for upgrading to a smart thermostat. Often these rebates are equivalent to 40-50% off the retail price.

    1. Matt Zagaja

      Yeah I get the emails from Eversource pushing this along with a discounted Google Home Mini. If I a was a homeowner and not a renter I’d probably take advantage of it.

  4. pointsnfigures

    Danger is if they can control them remotely using a centralized system. Let the data inform personal choice.

    1. Matt Zagaja

      My understanding is what you’re advocating for the is current state of things, but that some utilities are working on demand management that would give customers rebates if they opt-in. They already work with commercial customers on demand management, but now this can make doing it on a residential level feasible. I think its a win-win.

    2. sigmaalgebra

      Right: The centralized utility company can’t easily know when it’s okay to have the second floor at 90 F in the summer or 45 F in the winter because no one is yet using the second floor.A very old example is in the summer just to let the second floor go to 90+ F and just before bedtime throw open the second floor windows, turn on the attic fan, pull in cool, outside, evening air, and go to sleep. Sure, if also want to control dust, humidity, noise, etc., then need better ways; otherwise an attic fan can work great and for much less cost than the usual A/C.

  5. DJL

    This is very cool technology that has the potential to save billions of dollars. But I am old enough to remember when people had VCRs that blinked “12:00” forever because nobody learned to set the clock.The IoT space is notorious for having security problems. That being said, I don’t think hacking anyone’s thermostat is going to be a big deal UNLESS it provides a gateway to their home network. Then it is game on.

    1. scottythebody

      LOL! I love the analogy; it’s a great one.The economy for this type of thing runs a wide gamut, though. Just the thermostat itself is valuable if somebody can sell it as a botnet to task. I’m guessing they are mostly running Linux, so… Anyway, thermostats in themselves are not going to be a “big deal” necessarily, but any smart device that can be taken over has at least some value to the criminals, whether it gets them further into the network or not (which, let’s be real, once they are on any device in your home network, they can potentially be on all of them).

  6. Ales Spetic

    The main benefit of smart thermostats is power grid surge management. The uptake of the deployed devices is due to power companies giving the devices away almost for free in exchange for data or management ability. E.g. if you consent to time shifted increases or decreases of temperature (up to 15mins) that are managed by the operator, this pays huge dividends in terms of power grid surge management. The beauty of it is that you don’t need 50% penetration even 10-15% provides benefits to the grid system, since the operator can stack the power request in a queue. And only for that, it’s worth for a power operator to pay the for the whole device.

    1. JLM

      .This, of course, requires — as you astutely note — one to give control of their thermostat to the power company so they may adjust the run time start.The City of Austin By God Texas had a pilot program some years ago. As you note, they were looking to shave the peak which in a commercial office building is around 3-4 in the afternoon on a 100F day.The City owns the power company, one of the few municipally owned power companies in the USA. We even have a share of a nuke.I had one such system installed in my own HQ (I owned millions of SF of office space at the time, thought it would be noble experiment.)I was sitting there — bluebird 101F day in the summer — when I noticed the AC system go off. Five minutes later, the first droplet of sweat appeared. Thirty-five minutes later — thermostat flirting with low 90s — the system came back on.The next day we terminated our experiment.The most efficient HVAC systems are those that are off. Unfortunately, there are consequences.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. JLM

          Rush Hour Rewards deal:”When you sign up for Rush Hour Rewards, you give Nest permission to make minor, short-term adjustments to your air conditioning via your Nest thermostat. This small change (usually 1-3°) reduces power use during periods of high demand for electricity and reduces strain on the electric system. In most cases, you won’t notice adjustments to the central air conditioning system, or your comfort. And, you’ll always have ultimate control.”That is a perfectly reasonable arrangement. Bravo.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. zakumanoff

            Yeah, I’ve gotten a few “Rush hour starting in 1 hour” alerts from my Nest app, but I’ve never noticed any issues with comfort. My impression is that they don’t turn it off long. Perhaps they’re simply load balancing… PWM’ing amongst all the members.

          2. JLM

            .They’re peak shaving. An electric utility wants to run at full capacity and sell all of it.What they don’t want to do is to fire up a new plant to deal with an afternoon peak.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          3. zakumanoff

            Makes sense

    2. sigmaalgebra

      That’s part of why Fred’s> efficiently manage our energy consumptionis a problem in stochastic (under uncertainty, e.g., the weather) optimal control. Likely some good news is that we can do well with the probability distribution of the weather for enough minutes or hours in the future for doing well on the control.

  7. iggyfanlo

    In my experience, “escape velocity” or critical mass occurs at closer to 15% (oddly or not so oddly) very close to the percentage of atoms that need to be discharging electrons to reach critical state for a atomic reaction/explosion

    1. JLM

      .Nukes are based on the emission of neutrons from a critical mass of a particular isotope and the degree of containment surrounding the initial reaction.The critical mass is totally dependent upon the nuclide — Plutonium 239 (my personal favorite) requires only 10 kg to becomes critical. While Uranium-235 requires 52 kg.[This is why when you think about the Iranians and their spinning centrifuges, it is so important to know the isotope and the rate of concentration.]When the neutrons are bouncing around, if contained properly, you will be able to create a sustainable reaction that will spin out of control ending up in a mushroom cloud.Gross over simplification, but it’s not electrons doing the work. It’s neutrons.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. sigmaalgebra

        Yup, and the neutrons are dangerous: They stick to the nucleus of atoms and, thus, create isotopes which commonly are unstable, that is, radioactive. So, too soon the radioactive isotopes decompose and, then, release beta rays (high speed electrons), gamma rays (very energetic photons), maybe positrons (anti-matter electrons which soon hit an ordinary electron and release a gamma ray), and these various particles hit and damage biological material.

  8. kirklove

    “Maybe there is more thermostat swapping going on outside of those “construction” moments than I would expect.”I’d wager the vast majority are non-construction moments. A large chunk is free giveaways from power companies. Another is the fact they are simply more cosmetically appealing. They are also ridiculously easy to swap out as well. Personally, I’m a big fan of Ecobee. Stylish, effective, and work flawlessly.

    1. William Mougayar

      +1 for Ecobee, a Toronto company 😉

    2. CJ

      Big fan of Ecobee here too.

  9. Mike

    Very interesting. A huge market as something like 1/3 of residential energy consumption is related to heating or cooling? In addition to the thermostat there are opportuniities in materials, construction design etc. for overall building/home climate efficiency. I like the concept of deployed sensors in conjunction with the thermostat to better manage climate zones in individual spaces, occupency levels etc. I think systems will get a lot “smarter” in this respect. Many companies large and small are working on this.

    1. JLM

      .Residential systems — typically designed for 1 ton for 400 sf of conditioned space and 1 CFM per SF of conditioned space — typically have a single zone with multiple rooms with registers in each room.Most distribution problems can be solved by carefully “balancing” the system using a plenum box and turning vanes inside duct work between the plenum box and the registers,.The registers are adjustable.The balance should be made using a “hood” that registers the air flow. You put the boxy looking hood over the register, measure the air flow, and open/close the register as appropriate. You will also have to adjust the turning vanes.I have taken a house that thought it had an A/C problem and made it disappear by balancing the system. It is important to note that the location with the thermostat is calling the shots.One of the best recent innovations is single room HVAC units like wall mounted Mitsubishi units. They are not as efficient from a distribution perspective, but you can turn off rooms in a house when not in use — very efficient.They are also good for odd places, like a slightly damp first floor of a beach house that should be left on to combat mold.The problem with trying to sub-zone HVAC is the fan capacity cannot be simultaneously controlled thereby pushing the same amount of air through more closed vents.You get no energy savings.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. sigmaalgebra

        When I was a B-school prof in Ohio, we were in a townhouse, basement plus two floors, that had forced air cooling from the basement. Gotta tell you, on a hot day, the top floor was HOT.So, the forced air fan in the basement had a super tough, also expensive, time getting the cold air to the top floor where, of course, the hot air went and the sun had the most effect.Sooooo, how to get the cold air to the top floor? SURE: Run the tube with the compressed, room temperature working fluid to the attic, put the A/C evaporator in the attic, and let the cold air FALL. Sooo, get the cold air where want it essentially for free — that is, it’s super tough to use fans to move cold air from the basement to the second floor but dirt cheap, for free, just to move the A/C working fluid to the second floor!Sure, if the second floor is large and/or with several rooms, then still have just one compressor and condenser outside but have it feeding working fluid to more than one evaporator in the attic above the second floor!These are just dirt simple first level engineering ideas. The steps to stochastic optimal control should yield much more!

        1. JLM

          .One of the smartest things you can do is to insulate the roof rafter envelope of a home with an A/C unit in the attic. Most homes have their insulation in the floor joist space.Left uninsulated, the space is at 140-150F in the summer time. Which means that is the start temp for the A/C to do its thing and to distribute cold air. The duct losses are substantial.The rooms below are fighting this heat also.Insulated, it will be about five degrees warmer than the outside temp and take a long time to warm up in the morning.If you also install a reflective radiant barrier, it is even better. I helped a guy install blow on (not blow in) insulation capped with two pieces of one inch insulation with a radiant barrier in a space that housed the air handler for a 3-ton unit and his electricity bill went down enormously.It is also useful to close every void. Keep warm air from infiltrating.This is simple stuff.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. sigmaalgebra

            Yup, broadly air infiltration is one of the main costs in HVAC for controlling both temperature and humidity. So, yes, do the insulation and reflective barrier as you described, do have the A/C evaporator in the attic, but otherwise try to seal up the place to stop air/humidity infiltration. Try to f’get about the scary threats of radioactive radon gas from some rock formations.Then, let me remember: Water vapor, i.e., humidity, infiltrates MUCH faster than differences in air temperature. Soooo, in the winter the water vapor can move through the insulation, get next to the cold air seal (e.g., just construction polyethylene) surface on the outside, condense, and make the wall wet — bummer. Sooo, for the winter, need to seal the INSIDE surface. Then for the summer the hot air can infiltrate through the insulation, get next to the cool inside surface seal, and condense and again make the walls wet — bummer. Soooo, for the summers, also seal the outside of the insulation.Then for some fresh air that keeps down energy usage, have an air-air heat exchanger and hope that the exhaust side doesn’t ice up in the winter or the intake side doesn’t get wet in the summer!Do have to remember that humidity control is important but in the summer not cheap: Getting the air temperature low enough to have the excess water condense out means paying the energy cost of converting water vapor to liquid water, and without looking up the number (latent heat of evaporation from the phase change) that is HIGH.There is an easier solution — plenty of cheap energy!

          2. sigmaalgebra

            > Most homes have their insulation in the floor joist space.Yup, that was the case in the house I grew up in in Memphis. When grandma came, she got the room my brother and I shared, and we slept in the attic, right, with nice insulation in the FLOOR of the attic and NO insulation above us! Then one night some cold air moved in, and the outside air temperature fell to -15 F. I had all the blankets over me we could find, but the cold came in through the mattress below! It was COLD, but no harm done!

      2. Mike

        That is the basic concept. Using smart sensors to automate and optimize system balancing, maybe other efficiency optimizations. Commercial buildings could be a starting point and I think some companies are already doing occupency sensing. This may or may not be a good idea but this is a large market and I feel like there is room for disruption.

  10. JLM

    .Programmable thermostats have been around for decades, more than a quarter of a century. They turn on/off, manage time of day/day of week temperature set points for HVAC units. They are intuitive and easy to use.You mash a few buttons and voila. If you can operate an iPhone, you can program a thermostat. Thereafter, you can turn the heat off at night and turn it back on half an hour before you get up. Automatically.All a “smart” thermostat gives one is remote access to the current state and the ability to program the thermostat remotely. You can also allow others — like the power company — to access your smart thermostat.The big energy savings in HVAC is not the result of the thermostat; it is the result of increasing SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, think of it as MPG for HVAC) in the system whether it is a split system or a heat pump.The first big thing is that municipalities are using their Building Code to require a minimum 13 SEER while manufacturers are making SEERs up to 22. The worst SEER you can buy from Trane, as an example, is 14.5 and the highest is 22.A 14.5 SEER would have been bleeding edge not too many years ago.Residential systems now offer two stage compressors (the thing outside) and variable speed fans (the thing inside).This allows the system to start slow and gentle (low energy consumption) before kicking into full gear (high energy consumption) and to wind down (low energy consumption) to drive out moisture. Low humidity allows much higher set points.You can set your indoor humidity to 45% and 72F will feel frigid while 77F feels fine. [Pro tip: You will have to re-caulk and repaint the woodwork that first year because it will shrink in 45% humidity.]HVAC systems have a normal useful life of about 7-8 years. I base this on having owned tens of thousands of apartments and having replaced a similar number of units.You can get lucky and have one last a longer time, but the energy inefficiency you are holding on to is substantial. I just replaced two 5-ton units and a 3-ton unit in my residence and can tell the difference on my power bill as well as their quieter performance.The important thing is that the entire “fleet” will be replaced in the next ten years. Just like you can’t get a 12 SEER today, you can’t buy a unit without a programmable thermostat — not an Internet accessible, smart thermostat — a programmable thermostat.Back in the day, a SEER of 12 was considered good. Now, it is so low you cannot buy such a unit.The most efficient HVAC unit is one that is off. The least efficient unit is one blowing full speed.The thermostat just turns the unit on or off at your selected time of day and selected set point.Cities and power companies are subsidizing the cost of high efficiency units (I got $750/unit rebate from the City of Austin).From a pure efficiency perspective and energy consumption perspective, a thermostat adds nothing. It is a control. It is the system that consumes the energy.Homes are so tightly constructed today, it is inadvisable to leave an HVAC system off for a protracted period of time.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  11. Richard

    Smart thermostat – Dirty air filters – lazy people

    1. JLM

      .Clean 4″ Hepa filters can make the air sweeter and more healthy.Add ultraviolet light and you are almost in an operating room.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  12. sigmaalgebra

    > efficiently manage our energy consumptionThat’s a problem is optimization, really optimal control, really significantly stochastic optimal control. Why? Because there is thermal mass (inertia), time lags, humidity control (sometimes expensive), and the weather outside, including day and night, etc.

  13. Matt Carlson

    The EPA’s ENERGY STAR program is close to finalizing a Smart Home Energy Management System (“SHEMS”) specification which should further accelerate adoption all things smart home energy management.

  14. Aditya B

    Is there a critical mass when there are no network effects involved?In absence of any network effect, I doubt there’s any critical mass that triggers widespread adoption. Unless the critical mass refers to economies of scale that really drives the price down.A similar example that comes to mind is incandescent vs CFL vs LED lights. Despite benefits (and promotions), CFLs never really took off. LEDs offer a much bigger benefit, are relatively cheaper up front, and seem to have seen a much better uptake. Like thermostats, there wasn’t a network effect involved, but there was a large consumer surplus once the LED process went low enough.

  15. John Revay

    Hi Fred,Glad you made mention of the Honeywell Lyric , I bought a Lyric T6 Pro partially b/c it was homekit compatible and partly b/c it had a Honeywell name on it – generally been fairly happy w/ it