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.
“People maybe set it once,” she added. “It's so complicated.”
When the company offered to send me one to install and try out for myself, I was happy to meet the challenge because I had heard so many good things about it from relatives and online reviews when it was released last year. So far I haven't been disappointed. The sleek circle design and the LED display is so much more attractive than the white plastic box that formerly controlled my heating and A/C unit, and I have loved being able to set the temperatures through a smartphone (including Androids and iPhones), especially when I forget to tell it that I'm away from the house.
Although I am not an electrician and had never put in a thermostat, I was able to install it myself, using the video tutorials and extensive information found on the website, Nest.com. The company recommends that you check compatibility with your system before you open the box. Another helpful tip is to take a photograph of your existing wires before you begin the installation so you don't forget which one goes where.
Although the $249 price tag is high, the company points out that most users are saving money in energy bills, which many have posted on the Nest Facebook page. The cost also includes support online and a monthly energy usage report emailed to you. The company continues to develop software that it can push to the Nest via a wireless Internet connection.
“We are always working on introducing new features,” Brink said. “There are just neat things going on here.”
Buy the Nest for $249 online or find a list of local providers that carry it at the company's website, Nest.com. For more tips and information, go online to blog.NewsOK.com/get-appy.