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Can Texas energy providers remotely adjust your smart thermostats?

Jordan Smith
By Jordan Smith July 19th, 2021
For business

Several Texas energy providers offer programs to remotely adjust smart thermostats when energy demand is high.

Key points:

  • Some energy companies have programs that allow them to remotely adjust residential smart thermostats.
  • The energy companies say customers have to opt into this program, but many consumers say they were not aware they were signing up for the program.
  • These types of conservation programs will likely continue in the future as states try to stabilize their electricity grids during times of high demand.

Several retail energy providers (REPs) in Texas have programs in place that allow them to remotely adjust your thermostat on days where energy demand is high to conserve power. Large numbers of people learned about these programs in mid-June, when providers responded to a heatwave by increasing thermostat temperatures remotely.

Energy providers insist that any customer participating in the program has actively opted in. However, some residents say they were unaware of what they’d signed up for. One Texas family told KHOU that they woke up after a nap sweating because their thermostat had been remotely turned up to 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

The adjustment came the same week as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) urged customers to set their thermostats to 78 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to conserve energy. ERCOT said the conservation measures were necessary due to a large number of energy generators being offline for maintenance.

Residents complained that they received no warning about the temperature change. One family said the only notification they got was a text message after the fact.

“Was my daughter at the point of overheating?” wonders Brandon English. “She’s 3 months old. They dehydrate very quickly.” English said he removed his thermostat from the program after the June adjustment. “I wouldn’t want anybody else controlling my things for me,” he explains. Other residents wonder whether such energy-saving programs actually help to achieve their stated goal. “I’m not sure that it really helped with the energy issue because then I feel like we were using more to try and get back down to a comfortable level,” comments Karen Rogers, whose thermostat was also remotely adjusted in June.

How do remote adjustment programs work?

Various energy providers in the Lone Star State have programs allowing them to adjust thermostats remotely. For example, the Smart Savers Texas program is run by a company called EnergyHub on behalf of several REPs. In exchange for agreeing to have their thermostats adjusted remotely, the company enters customers into a sweepstake to win prizes. EnergyHub spokesperson Erika Diamond notes that the company will adjust thermostats by no more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

While the terms of each program vary slightly, the basic idea is the same. Customers are given the option to enroll by their REP or smart thermostat manufacturer when it is installed.

“During summer peak energy demand days, we may briefly adjust your thermostat settings by a few degrees. We’ll do this only as needed,” explains CPS Energy on its website. The municipality-owned provider in San Antonio adds that customers can opt out at any time.

Austin Energy runs an initiative called the Power Partner Program. It’s offered voluntarily to customers, who can agree to the provider turning up their thermostats by between 2 and 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Power Partner events can only take place in the afternoon between June 1 and September 30 each year. Additionally, Austin Energy can only initiate 25 Power Partner events each year.

Customers wishing to join the program need to have an internet-connected thermostat. Austin Energy explains that customers who don’t have one can purchase a smart thermostat and secure a $110 rebate for doing so.

How can this impact you?

If you’re a Texas residential energy customer, you may be able to enroll in one of these programs. Supporters of initiatives like the Power Partner Program say it can help customers reduce their energy bills, conserve energy for the grid, and help maintain stable energy distribution during periods of high demand. Similar programs exist in various parts of the country, including in California and Pennsylvania.

In the short term, it’s likely that REPs will use these conservation measures throughout August. August is generally the month with peak energy demand in Texas because that’s when temperatures are at their hottest.

You may also find that REPs place increased focus on these programs over the longer term. Texas energy demand is set to increase over the coming years, which will place the grid under more strain. The transition to renewable energy and hotter temperatures due to climate change will also increase the need for energy conservation.

If you don’t want to participate in remote thermostat adjustment programs, you should make sure to review the fine print of your energy agreement. This includes settings on any apps or online accounts you have. You should be able to check your electricity plan’s contract to determine whether you opted into one of these programs. If you find out you’re enrolled in an energy-saving program and want to opt out, contact your energy provider.

 

Jordan Smith is a freelance journalist and translator covering issues related to energy, the environment, and politics. His work has appeared on the independent news site Opposing Views and at the Canadian Labour Institute.

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