Could not checking your thermostat save the grid?



When extreme heat descends on central Texas, local utility Austin Energy uses an unconventional tool to keep the power grid from buckling: It taps into the Internet to set the smart thermostats of 25,300 consenting customers, momentarily raising the temperatures inside theirs Houses a few degrees when demand on the grid peaks.

These homes could also get an extra boost of cold air a little earlier in the day to “pre-cool” them ahead of the current’s rush hour. Other “Demand Response” Technologies allow an energy supplier to adjust when your water heater kicks in or your pool pump turns on.

The programs are created as a crucial tool in stabilizing power grids, which are increasingly at risk of collapse as they face decades of underinvestment while extreme weather conditions fuel record-breaking demand. Nets will be strained again this week as scorching weather grips the Pacific Northwest and much of the Southeast.

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But many utilities are reluctant to embark on such innovations as a nation used to cheap, plentiful energy refuses to change its consumption patterns and conservative lawmakers dismiss the programs as dangerous government overstatement.

In Texas, the owners of less than 2 percent of the state’s 8.5 million air conditioners are enrolled in initiatives like Austin Energy’s. More homeowners enrolling statewide could avert power shortages in Texas alone, said Michael Webber, an energy scientist at the University of Texas at Austin.

“It’s not that difficult,” he said. “But we have this idea that we should be able to eat all the desserts we want and not go on a diet. There is this machismo that has narrowed our options.”

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have energy scientists closed in several studies that the large-scale deployment of arguably unobtrusive demand-response technologies could reduce electricity use by the same amount of energy needed to power millions of homes across the country. The programs are voluntary, customers are paid to participate, and registrants are typically free to override customizations made by a utility at any given time.

But resistance from a Republican party, which is increasingly opposed to efficiency measures, is fierce.

“It baffles me that we’re even talking about something like this,” Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) said last month at a congressional hearing where lawmakers were considering a proposal to add demand-response capability to some new water heaters. “I think this is better described as ‘ability to remotely control the technology of the American people.'”

In places like Texas, where, according to the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, there is potential to conserve at peak times the amount of electricity generated by a half-dozen power plants, uptake has been slow.

Equipping the state’s half million swimming pools with demand-response-capable pumps would free up enough electricity to power a few hundred thousand homes, according to the council.

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According to a UCLA study, more than 200,000 Californians reduce their energy use by an average of 18 percent when their utility asks for help through a private service called OhmConnect. It pays customers connected to an app to turn off their smart devices and adjust their thermostats when the grid is stressed. In fact, regulators there say the state has only just begun to unlock the potential energy savings made possible by demand response.

Many other states have started their own efforts, including Florida, where Residents can be paid so that their devices can be switched off for a short time.

But while the International Energy Agency demands the European countries To expand the use of such tools as the continent faces severe energy shortages, political polarization in the United States is clouding prospects for technologies here.

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That became clear last month at the House Energy and Commerce Committee viewed as a bipartisan proposalsupported by industry to establish national standards for the manufacture of water heaters with demand-response capability.

The devices are said to have great potential for relieving the burden on the power grids, since the heating of the water in the tanks can be recalibrated without major impact on consumers.

“Sure, we can save energy if utilities can turn appliances on and off, but that’s not what people want,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said at the hearing. “There are very real privacy issues here.”

The ominous warnings, said Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, gloss over it how the programs are rooted in consumer choice.

“The customer can still decide whether they want to participate in the program,” he said in an interview. “If you don’t want the big bad utility running your water heater, don’t sign up.”

A linchpin of the most successful programs is strong regulations and incentives that motivate energy companies and their customers to participate. States like Texas have refused to introduce them.

“Texas should be the Super Bowl of demand response,” Aaron Berndt, who leads energy industry partnerships for Google, a major supplier of smart thermostats, said during a hear fall the Texas Public Utilities Commission. “But it is not.”

Texas no longer has the appetite it once had for laws requiring utilities to aggressively seek energy savings. After establishing himself with the legislature as the national leader in this area, the then-governor became. George W. Bush signed it in 1999, overtaken by more than two dozen other states.

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Few GOP-controlled states rank among the top tier of energy-saving innovators after a decade of party activists targeting the programs.

The shift began shortly after the rise of the Tea Party, when Upton and other congressional Republicans lobbied for the industry-backed phase-out of lightbulbs branded socialists and sellouts on conservative talk radio. The backlash moved the same lawmakers, who boasted of the energy savings achieved by the new law request their cancellation.

The Trump administration tried unsuccessfully to abolish Energy Star, a public-private partnership that allows companies to earn a seal for products that meet high efficiency standards.

Now, as states seek to demand response technology to shore up regional power grids, activists on the right are taking aim. A segment from Fox News host Tucker Carlson last year accused energy companies of using smart thermostats to raise the temperature in homes without permission, taking advantage of customers who unintentionally signed up for energy-saving programs. The claim was marked as “incorrect”. by the fact-checking organization PolitiFact.

Carlson’s colleague Laura Ingraham called the technology a tool of the “climate nuts”. An America News contributor, Alison Steinberg, falsely explained in a video last month that smart thermostats were being developed by “globalists” to “track us and track us and monitor everything we do.”

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But while politicians in much of the country may not be sympathetic to initiatives that integrate home thermostats and appliances with grid requirements, the reality of the energy industry nonetheless compels talks about it.

Power grid weakness caused by energy shortages has pushed up prices in red and blue states alike. Reducing demand is an obvious way to bring costs back down.

“Not only is there a reliability crisis, there is also an affordability crisis,” said Doug Lewin, a Texas energy consultant. “Eventually, the pressure from voters will be enough, and the complaints about the cost of energy loud enough, that regulators and legislators will start looking at what else they can do.”


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