High temperatures in Oklahoma the last couple of summers have caused suffering in unexpected ways beyond the heat, including high energy bills from overworked air conditioners.
Energy companies nationwide are trying to figure out ways to help customers save money while easing the strain on power grids. The Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. rolled out a SmartHours program earlier this year to offset energy costs while encouraging customers to quit using so much electricity during peak hours. The company even includes a new smart thermostat for those who enroll.
A new thermostat company also jumped into the market last year with an innovative way to help people fine-tune energy usage: a “learning thermostat” called the Nest learns our individual habits and adjusts accordingly. People can control the Nest through mobile devices as well.
Nest CEO and founder Tony Fadell, who led teams that created many of the original generations of iPods and iPhones, pours into the new thermostat the same sense of innovation and design that people expect from Apple. Fadell, who is no longer with Apple, started work on the Nest when he was building an ultra-green vacation home in Lake Tahoe, Nev., and was frustrated at the archaic thermostat choices he found.
“He basically said, ‘Look, today you have these really smartphones in your hand. We have this great learning technology,'” said Kate Brinks, director of corporate communications for Nest. “Why shouldn't your thermostat do the same thing?”
The Nest programs itself based on your routines and on the design of your own home — how quickly it loses heat and cooling and how long it takes for your heating and air conditioner unit to reach the desired temperature. To program it, all you do at first is turn the thermostat up or down depending on whether you're hot or cold, and the Nest sets a schedule for each day. It even can even detect when you're away and when you return.
“We actually learn from your home and your behavior,” Brinks said. In developing the thermostat, the company found that only 11 percent of people ever take the time to program their existing thermostat.