Are Smart Thermostats the New CFLS?

Oct. 13, 2015
Could smart thermostats be the new low-hanging fruit for energy efficiency?

The U.S. energy efficiency industry has been bemoaning the lack of low-hanging fruit – inexpensive and easy energy savings – now that efficient lightbulbs are fairly ubiquitous.

Could smart thermostats be the new replacement?

Events in Chicago last week suggest so. The smart thermostat is starting to show scale. In what project sponsors say is the largest campaign of its kind in the country, utilities and partners are trying to install one million smart thermostats in northern Illinois.

Commonwealth Edison, Nest, ecobee, gas utilities and advocacy groups are working together on the lengthy project. ComEd hopes to see the million mark reached in about five years, according to George Malek, ComEd’s director of energy efficiency services.

“We are always searching for the next generation of energy efficiency that will help us meet our savings goal,” said Malek in a recent interview.

CFLs were once the “silver bullet,” then LEDs. And now Malek sees the rise of the smart thermostat as interest grows in the smart home and business.

The utility envisions the smart thermostats serving as an energy efficiency tool – reducing overall energy consumption – although customers may also decide to use them to participate in demand response programs.

Program sponsors are confident that consumers will install the thermostats because of the steep discount the program offers. The price of the thermostat is cut in half with about $120 in rebates available.

Studies indicate that the thermostats reduce a household’s annual utility bill by about $130 to $145, according to Ben Bixby, director of energy projects for Nest Labs. “You are looking at payback in less than a year,” he said.

Last week’s smart thermostat announcement was a big enough deal to warrant an appearance by Gina McCarthy, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“What makes this a game changer is that customers can achieve significant savings on their energy bills, while improving the comfort of their homes,” said Rob Kelter, senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Smart thermostats are Wi-Fi-enabled devices that allow residents to easily control the heating and air conditioning settings in a home through their smartphones, tablets, and computers.  The technology is smart because it learns or adapts to user behavior over time and can generate energy savings automatically. Residents remain comfortable when at home and reduce wasted money on heating and cooling energy while away at work or on vacation.

Follow on Twitter @EfficiencyMkts.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is the editor and founder of She is co-founder and former editor of Microgrid Knowledge.