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Austin Energy will give you credits in exchange for a little control over your thermostat

 The sun shines brightly over the bridge at Mueller Lake Park in September 2019.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Austin is expecting a string of 100-plus-degree days.

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Austin Energy is offering residential customers financial incentives for letting the department tweak the temperature on their smart thermostats on high energy use days — like over the next week, when daily highs are expected to cross 100 degrees.

Customers who sign up for the Power Partner program will receive a one-time $50 credit for each eligible smart thermostat they enroll and $25 a year for each one that stays in the program. Previously, customers who opted into the program received a one-time $85 credit on their accounts.

By enrolling, customers agree to let Austin Energy adjust temperatures on their thermostats by 2 to 4 degrees. That could mean increasing temperatures for two hours between 3 to 6 p.m. In extreme weather circumstances — like ones that impede power generation on the grid — the department could adjust temperatures outside that window.

Customers can always override the department’s changes by simply readjusting their thermostats. There are no limitations to how quickly or often a customer can reset their thermostat.

Matt Mitchell, a spokesperson for Austin Energy, said in addition to reducing the strain on the grid on days when demand for energy is highest — like when it’s really hot — the program can help reduce costs.

“When demand spikes, prices spike as well. And so, it costs more money for Austin Energy to purchase wholesale electricity on the ERCOT market,” Mitchell said, referring to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The nonprofit group is tasked with both ensuring the energy grid is stable and managing the energy market for producers and companies.

“And those [higher] costs are always, by nature of the market, passed along to consumers,” he said. “So if we can lessen the demand by adjusting thermostats for those that are in this voluntary program, we can lessen the amount of energy that is required to supply our personal service area.”

Austin Energy can adjust temperatures up to 25 times a year as part of the program. Mitchell said the agency adjusts thermostats only a "handful" of times in a year.

You can add up to five thermostats in the program. Only certain smart thermostats are eligible but include Amazon and Nest models. You can also apply for a $30 rebate to install a new smart thermostat.

Mitchell said so far only about 25,000 — or less than 5% — of Austin Energy customers are enrolled in the program. But he said those savings are still significant.

“When you have 25,000 homes that you can, say, at 4 o'clock on July 10 when it's 104 degrees outside and you can adjust those thermostats by a few degrees until the sun goes down or at least the temperatures moderate a little bit, or the wholesale prices come down a little bit that adds up to really big savings.”

Sangita Menon is a general assignment reporter for KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @sangitamenon.
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