By Janet Stephens

Waste energy? Or Save energy?

Although here in the Bay Area we live in a mild climate, heating and cooling your home or office can still be an expensive proposition, especially if you’re paying for heating or cooling when no one’s there.

You’ve probably all heard about smartphones, but have you heard about smart thermostats? A smart thermostat is a new term for a programmable thermostat, technology that has been around for decades. When I moved into my house in 1997, the central heating system could be controlled through a programmable thermostat. For a while, I experimented with programming a fixed routine for the thermostat, but the interface was clunky, and I found over time that I was happiest setting the heating manually. Just as I never learned how to program my VCR, I likewise never learned how to effectively use the programming feature of my digital thermostat. We now use a completely analog dial or “manual” thermostat in the house.

Smart Learning

Yet, with improved interface and usability, some of the new smart thermostats really are worth a second look. One neat feature on some smart thermostats is not just programmability but also the system’s ability to automatically program itself by learning from a user’s typical behavior. For example, rather than going through the process of setting your thermostat to turn on the heat on weekdays at 7 a.m. to 69 degrees then turning it back down to 60 degrees at 8:30 a.m., and then setting a different schedule on weekends, your thermostat would monitor your typical settings on weekdays and weekends and then program a schedule for itself based on your behavior.

Remote Control

Another feature on some smart thermostats is the ability to control them via your familiar smartphone, tablet or even a digital assistant such as Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri. For example, you could wake up late on a Sunday morning, grab your smartphone from your nightstand and turn on the heat before you get out of bed. Or you could spontaneously decide to crash at a friend’s house and then turn off your heat remotely from your phone. Or you could tell Alexa to turn down the heat while you cook dinner.

Are You Home?

Many products use something called “geofencing” technology to track when you are in your home or not, using location information from your smartphone. If you (or your phone) are not home, the thermostat would know to turn off the heat.

How much energy would you save? I’ve seen a few different estimates, and I think the answer would depend on your current habits. For example, I think my family does a pretty good job of remembering to turn off the heat when we leave the house. However, we often forget to turn down the heat at night when we go to bed, so I’m fairly certain we would see some savings. One product advertises an average savings of 23%.

Green Hotels

Now that you have thought about the problem of the heat running in your home when no one’s there, imagine that you manage a motel or hotel with several rooms. Your guests probably won’t bother to turn down the heat or A/C when they leave. (Why would they? They don’t have to pay the heating or cooling bills.) You end up paying a lot to heat or cool the air in empty rooms. According to ENERGY STAR, the United States’s 47,000 hotels annually spend on average $2,000 per available room on energy (about 6% of all operating costs), which is more than I spend to heat my entire house.

Many hotels have individual heating and cooling systems in each room, usually under a window. These self-contained heating and air conditioning units are referred to as “packaged terminal air conditioners” and are designed to heat or cool a single living space using only electricity (with resistive or heat pump heating). Just as you can install a smart thermostat in your home, hotels can install in-room thermostats to control these units. Impressive features include:

  • intelligent occupancy sensors that automatically adjust temperatures to eliminate unnecessary heating and air conditioning when the rooms are unoccupied
  • built-in wireless networking that allows hotel staff to manage a room’s temperature remotely

No-Cost Smart Thermostats for Small Hotels!

Do you manage a hotel or motel? Through funding from Pacific Gas & Electric and MCE, SmartLights can provide in-room thermostats at no cost to you. In addition, for a limited time, no-cost LED lightbulbs are available for in-room lighting. The following businesses are eligible to participate:

  • Hotels with in-room air conditioning
  • Hotels in an ownership group of 10 locations or fewer

Contact us today to learn more:  save@ebenergy.org or call 510-981-7750