Austin requires smart thermostats in all new homes

nest thermostat
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Ben Terrett

It gets really hot in Austin and for a lot of the year. It's currently mid-October and the high will reach 94 degrees today. There's a cold front coming through later this week and we'll see highs in the low 80s. You know, fall weather.

The long stretch of summer temperatures is great for spending time outdoors, but it's not so great for the electric bill. Austinites use a lot of AC for a lot of the year and the city wants to help cut down on the energy demand. To do so, the city council has passed an ordinance that requires all new homes and apartments to have smart thermostats, like the Nest, installed.

We know that customers using smart thermostats like the Nest see real energy savings thanks to small adjustments to temperature throughout the day that happen automatically. When smart thermostats and utilities join forces in energy demand response programs, the benefits can be even greater.

Austin Energy, the city-run utility company, already has a PowerSaver program in place that offers an $85 rebate to customers who purchase smart thermostats and let the utility adjust the temperature during times of high electricity demand. It typically involves moving the temperature up by four degrees for a couple of hours about 15 days out of the year. The shift helps the utility meet demands and customers save a little money too.

“Rather than cycling their air conditioner on and off, we just adjust the temperature settings by a few degrees in the home,” Austin Energy's Debbie Kimberly said to KUT. “It’s typically indiscernible. We have very good participation rates. Customers really like the program.”

The new smart thermostat mandate aims to get more homes involved in the PowerSaver program to help balance peak energy loads. Because many new homes and apartments are already coming with internet-connected thermostats, the ordinance had very little opposition. Also, newer homes have better insulation meaning the shifts in temperature will be less noticeable for those customers.

The city is partnering with Nest on the PowerSaver program, but even with the $85 rebate the $249 thermostat can be out of reach for some homeowners and renters. Luckily, almost any brand of smart thermostat can be used with the program and cheaper alternatives are coming. Kimberly mentions a $60 Bluetooth connected thermostat is in the works.

What do you think of having a smart thermostat mandate?

Austin requires smart thermostats in all new homes
The city hopes the connected thermostats will cut residential energy use.

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