A Smart, Sleek, Money-Saving Thermostat- page 3 | Innovation | Smithsonian
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The Nest Learning Thermostat takes an active role in saving energy around the house. (Nest Labs)

A Smart, Sleek, Money-Saving Thermostat

The father of the iPod talks about his next-generation thermostat

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(Continued from page 2)

Since the first iteration of Nest in October 2011, the company has released software updates. What, in your opinion, has been the most noteworthy improvement?

I think the biggest one that we’ve been able to do was this spring. Even with Nest, people get settled into a schedule that they like, a certain temperature at a certain time. [A new feature called] Seasonal Savings is a challenge that you can opt into. It will actually look at your schedule and figure out the times where it can shave off a half a degree or degree here or there and, over a period of two or three weeks, create a new, lower-energy schedule for you.

The other feature is called Rush Hour Rewards. In times of peak energy use, during the hot summer weekday, when everyone turns on their air conditioning at once, it is similar to a rush hour, where everyone tries to use the road at one time and you get a traffic jam. In the case of an electrical rush hour, we get brownouts and blackouts, or your prices go skyrocketing through the roof. We have algorithms that will go in during those rush hour periods, if you opt into this, and do some shaving.

The utility has to tell us when one of these peak loading days happens, maybe 10 days a year. Then, we send out a notice to the individual Nest owners. They opt into it, and we modulate or control their thermostat during that time frame. If you allow us to change your temperature by one degree, we can move 50 to 60 percent of the energy usage during those peak times to another time or not use it at all, so that we don’t put as much strain on the grid. If you opt into that program, the utility will reward you with dollars.

Are there specific areas of the country where this Rush Hour Rewards program has really worked?

We have run many, many events in Austin, Texas. It is working really well. Over 90 percent of our customers are saying, “Hey, I did it. I earned money, and I actually didn’t feel anything. I enjoyed it.” The utility loved it as well. Everybody is working together. The program is going to expand across the country as other utilities work in concert with us.

What is typical for the cash rewards?

In Austin, for opting into the program you get an $85 rebate. In other parts of the country, you can get $3, $4 or $5 per event. Those add up when there are 10 events over the year.

What about other energy-saving features?

Let’s say you want a certain temperature at 6 a.m. Well, under different weather conditions, there are different times when you want to turn on the heating. [A Nest feature called] True Radiant understands the temperature outside [and] the temperature you want when you want it. It turns on the system 15 minutes early, 27 minutes early, an hour and a half early—whatever it takes to get to the right temperature without you having to guess.

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