In order to help residents cut down on energy usage, the city of Austin, Texas, will require all new houses and apartments to have smart thermostats installed. These thermostats offer more control than the simple temperature dial we're used to, learning your preferences over time and enabling control via smartphone.
Builders are already happy about it. "There was little to no objection to that. Most of the builders already offer the higher-end thermostats in new homes," said Debbie Kimberly of Austin Energy to Austin's KUT public radio station.
Homeowners will be asked to give up some control over the temperature in their home to Austin Energy, as a part of its optional PowerSaver program. This works by letting the power company reach into your thermostat over the internet and adjust the temperature by up to four degrees at times of heavy electricity demand. This, says Kimberly, usually happens for a couple of hours a day, over around two weeks of the year, when temperatures climb and air-con goes into overdrive.
"Rather than cycling their air conditioner on and off," says Kimberly, "we just adjust the temperature settings by a few degrees in the home. It’s typically indiscernible. We have very good participation rates. Customers really like the program."
In return for giving up a little control, residents will receive an $85 rebate, in addition to the money they save from using less electricity. It's a little like having a passive-aggressive roommate who turns the heating down in the winter and tells you to put on a thicker sweater. And if people don't like it, they can always drop out—the program currently has 50,000 people signed up, and some have already left.
In new homes, where these smart thermostats will be required, homes should be sufficiently insulated that residents won't notice much or any difference. And compulsory installation will eventually be good for renters, too. Even without the power company turning down your AC, a smart thermometer can save a lot of money in energy bills, just by switching them off when they're not needed. Renters typically have to ask their landlord to install smart thermostats, and you can imagine how willing the typical landlord to splurge on that.