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Check if your utility company can change the temperature in your home

Smart devices in your house can help you out with a lot of things. From doorbells that show who’s on your porch to lights that can come on at a specific time, they sure do make modern life exciting. If you live in a region with extreme temperature fluctuations, you may have added a smart thermostat to your technological arsenal.

These devices allow you to remotely control your home’s air-conditioning even if you aren’t there. But some users across several states have noticed that their devices are seemingly changing the temperature by themselves.

Distinctly remember that the thermostat was set at a specific temperature, users discovered their houses to be much warmer than expected. If this has happened to you, here is what is going on.

Here’s the backstory

Texas experienced one of its coldest winters this year, causing many residents to crank up the heat in their homes. The more electricity Texans use, the greater the strain on the state’s utility grid. During the last winter, Texas had several blackouts as a result.

With summer already reaching record temperatures, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has pleaded with residents to use electricity sparingly. Some parts of the state had a sudden loss of power generation on June 22, and the day before had a generation loss of 564 MW.

What does this have to do with smart thermostats? Well, it turns out that some Texas residents’ thermostats have been turned up remotely without their knowledge. These devices are installed in homes as part of a Smart Savers Texas program and are operated by EnergyHub, of which ERCOT is a client.

A resident explained to KHOU 11 that his thermostat remotely changed to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the same temperature ERCOT recommends to save power. Brandon English explained that his wife and child were napping at the time. “They woke up sweating. Was my daughter at the point of overheating? She’s 3 months old. They dehydrate very quickly,” he said.

How this impacts you

Explanations for having the power to adjust your thermostat are hidden behind the program’s confusing terms.

As an example, on EnegryHub’s website, it explains: “A grid-edge DERMS is the only platform that is built to manage the enormous complexity of accessing customer-owned DERs, integrating with these DERs to enable data flow and control, and making grid service management decisions across these diverse portfolios of behind-the-meter DERs.”

In short (and less confusing) language: EnergyHub has a distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) that can regulate data and electricity to customer-owned distributed energy resources like your thermostat or anything else connected to the grid.

If you signed up for EnergyHub’s “Bring Your Own Thermostat” solution, you could have unintentionally agreed for them to change your home’s temperature. Compatible thermostats in its network include:

  • Nest
  • Ecobee
  • Emerson
  • Honeywell Home
  • Lux
  • Building36
  • Radio Thermostat
  • Vivint

According to Vice’s Motherboard, similar measures have been implemented in other states, including California, Illinois, Maryland, Rhode Island and New York.

What to look out for

With several of these programs, the utility providers will often explain the benefits of smart connected devices. Most try to make the correlation between having smart devices and saving electricity, hidden in confusing language or industry jargon.

Here are some things to watch for:

  • Thoroughly read through any agreement or contract with a utility provider.
  • Look for terms like DERs, DERMs or grid-edge DERMS.
  • Whenever a company states that it can “reach behind the meter,” it means that they have access to regulate your power consumption.

Keep reading

Use a Nest thermostat? The temperature is rising

5 smart thermostats to save you money this summer

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