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A new study reveals that those “smart” thermostats installed, often at great expense, in homes actually cause the energy consumption to rise, not fall.
“Engineering estimates from the California Technical Forum …. predict that smart thermostats will produce substantial reductions in energy consumption,” the report, called “The Human Perils of Scaling Smart Technologies: Evidence from Field Experiments,” said.
It was released by authors from Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago, University of Southern California and University of Alabama.
They studied the smart thermostat impact on energy consumption using data over an 18-month period including more than 16 million hourly electricity use records and almost 700,000 daily observations of natural gas consumption.
“The most relevant estimates to our experimental sample come from Department of Energy Technical Reference Manuals, which are annual reports produced by energy providers and regulators. These reports primarily rely on engineering simulations and survey data to predict the effects of energy efficiency programs at scale.
“These predictions are then used by energy providers to justify expenditures on energy efficiency programs. Mapping these predictions for Californians, which vary by climate zone and the size of a home, to our experimental samples we find that savings of 1.3% and 4.0% are respectively predicted for overall electricity and natural gas consumption.”
However, those thermostats were found to “fail to deliver the expected energy savings.”
The researchers said, in their nearly 100-page report, those thermostats “actually increase electricity and gas consumption by 2.3% and 4.2%, respectively,” the report found.
The Washington Examiner reported John List, one of the authors, identified the “popular smart thermostat devices” as “ecobee and the Nest.”
They advertise savings of 26% and 27%, respectively, on consumer’s annual heating and cooling bills.
The report explained the problem was not necessarily one of usability.
“In fact, researchers observed, nearly all users with the smart devices programmed them almost immediately, and many did so with energy savings in mind,” the report said.
Instead, the problem was with how often and to what extent users overrode the programming to set heating temperatures higher, or cooling temperatures lower, when they wanted to change it.
List said, in the report, “If Commander Spock was given one of these, he would install it and use it correctly. But unfortunately, most households are like Homer Simpson. They receive the technology and they go in and they undo the good stuff— in this particular case, they undid the presets, or they undid the defaults that came from the manufacturer. And when households did that, they undid all the ‘good stuff,’ and engineers’ estimates of what we would save in terms of energy.”
List continued, “It’s one thing to invent a technology, it’s another to get people to buy it. It’s third altogether, to get them to use it in both a cost-effective and energy-efficient way. And that’s what happened in our particular experiment.”
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