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Austin Requires Smart Thermostats In All New Homes

Matt Largey/KUT

City leaders are taking new measures to help residents cut down on their energy usage during the hottest months of the year.

If you live in a newer home, you may have one of those fancy internet-connected thermostats, like the Nest, installed. They’re programmable, and they let users control the temperature of their home remotely. Now, devices like that will be mandatory in all new houses and apartments built in Austin. Debbie Kimberly with Austin Energy said the new requirement could be a big energy saving measure.

“There was little to no objection to that,” Kimberly said. “Most of the builders already offer the higher-end internet-enabled thermostats when they’re building homes.”

Austin Energy is offering an $85 rebate to people with smart thermostats who enroll in their PowerSaver program. Participating customers allow Austin Energy to adjust the temperature in their homes up to four degrees when the demand for electricity is at its highest. Kimberly said the change usually happens for a couple hours about 15 days out of year.

“Rather than cycling their air conditioner on and off, we just adjust the temperature settings by a few degrees in the home,” she said. “It’s typically indiscernible. We have very good participation rates. Customers really like the program.”

Kimberly said about 50,000 people are currently enrolled in the PowerSaver program, but some customers have dropped out over time. In older buildings with less insulation, raising the temperature even a few degrees can make things uncomfortable hot, Kimberly said, but for homes built under current regulations, the difference probably won’t cause any discomfort.

“We look towards hopefully seeing more cities hopefully enacting more requirements like this going forward,” said Jeff Hamel with Nest, a smart thermostat company that’s partnering with the city on the PowerSaver program. “It really establishes a great platform for residents in the city as well as the utility to be able to work together.”

But for now, the technology may not be accessible to everyone. Renters typically have to go through their property owner to get a smart thermostat installed. And while the devices can lead to energy savings over time, the up-front costs can be substantial. A Nest thermostat, for example, will run you $249. But Debbie Kimberly said more affordable technology is in the works – she said researchers are working on a Bluetooth enabled thermostat that could cost as little as $60.

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