Smart thermostat links to cloud for energy savings

August 1, 2011 Off By Hoofer
Grazed from CNet.  Author: Martin LaMonica.

EnergyHub is making smart thermostats smarter by hitching them to a large database.

The residential energy company today announced a software system that works with connected thermostats in people’s homes to optimize settings for energy savings. Called Mercury, the software is aimed at broadband providers, utilities, and thermostat manufacturers, which will offer the service to consumers…

Programmable thermostats are one of the most effective ways to lower energy consumption, but many consumers don’t own them or don’t take the trouble to program them. With EnergyHub’s software, people will be able to program HVAC systems through a Web site or a smart phone application with a far simpler interface, according to EnergyHub CEO Seth Frader-Thompson.

People do an initial setup by entering information, such as hours of the day they are home. Over time, the software analyzes actual usage and pulls in additional information, such as the home type and weather forecasts. From there, the software generates an "operational plan" designed to save energy and ensure comfort, Frader-Thompson explained.

The back-end software periodically analyzes a home’s energy status to make adjustments. For example, if people override the settings frequently, it may change the plan.

The application is a good example of how cloud computing can be coupled with connected smart devices to use energy more efficiently. EnergyHub expects to announce initial partners that will offer the service to consumers in a couple of months, Frader-Thompson said.

Smart thermostats, which connect wirelessly through a home broadband connection to the Internet, are available starting at about $100. With them, people can control climate setting remotely, but adding back-end analytics can cut energy usage by about 10 percent, Frader-Thompson said.

"It’s highly dependent on what people are already doing in their homes, but customers who are not programming thermostats can save $200 a year and a lot of homes, it could be $500 a year," he said. "We think it’s going to have a huge impact on bringing residential energy management that much closer to mainstream."

The online application also lets people compare how their home is doing relative to a similar house, a technique that has been proven effective in motivating people to pay attention to their energy consumption.

Start-up EcoFactor is another company offering a similar service through utilities to analyze thermostat data to optimize settings. In its first trials, the software cut energy consumption by 17 percent.

EnergyHub also makes hardware, including a home energy console, for controlling home energy. Its first product sold directly to consumers is expected to be available in several weeks.