Carrier extended its options to deliver next-generation demand response on Wednesday by partnering with ThinkEco, a New York-based startup that is best known for its modlet smart plug.

To work with Carrier, ThinkEco’s cloud-based modlet cloud platform will integrate with Carrier’s ComfortChoice Touch thermostat. ThinkEco’s modlet has previously been used by Consolidated Edison in window AC demand response pilots. Now, utility customers could be enrolled in the same demand response or energy efficiency program whether they are on a central AC (with a Carrier thermostat) or a window unit.

“ThinkEco has innovated with its utility partners to create next-generation energy-efficiency and demand-response technologies that customers actually want to use,” Jun Shimada, CEO of ThinkEco, said in a statement.

Carrier has been a part of utility demand response programs for decades, but is increasingly turning to startups for more sophisticated offerings in a shifting market. In October, Carrier announced a partnership with EnergyHub to provide its Mercury platform for its smart thermostats.

Many of the name-brand HVAC companies, like Carrier and Honeywell, have multiple partnerships to tackle the residential demand response market. Although partnerships abound, they don’t necessarily end up with big utility contracts. ThinkEco would not disclose if there were any utilities piloting the technology. Carrier, which is owned by United Technologies Electronic Controls (NYSE: UTX), also struck a deal with Comverge in 2011 for its thermostats to be integrated into the demand response provider’s platform. 

“Our customer’s experience with the ComfortChoice Touch is enhanced through ThinkEco’s attractive user interface and smartphone apps, which are consistent with our goal of making energy efficiency easy and cost-effective for utilities and their customers,” Raymond Archacki, senior product manager at Carrier, said in a statement.

For potential utility customers, the idea is choice. “They can deploy modlets only, modlets with thermostats, or thermostats only,” said Mei Shibata, Chief Strategy Officer at ThinkEco. “Ultimately, having more choice is good for utilities and their customers, and we think that helps to drive the market forward.”

Smart thermostat makers are realizing that they have a valuable asset already deployed in a utility’s territory. SDG&E is working with EnergyHub and to offer the customers with smart thermostats a more aggressive pricing option as part of the peak rebate program. CenterPoint teamed up with WeatherBug, which is owned by Earth Networks, to offer its home energy management app to customers that take part in their residential demand response program.

Utilities want demand response that can deliver guaranteed peak reduction, but they’re also eager for paths into the home where they don’t have to actively manage the relationship with the customer or shoulder so much upfront cost. The Department of Energy is also involved in pilots that bring in multiple home energy platforms into a single, utility demand response program.

Pilots and deployments abound in this space, with a variety of hardware and communications options in residential demand response. Many utilities are looking for options that also don’t require smart meters. It’s also not just about peak shaving programs, but about increased positive customer interactions that can also build trust for more robust energy efficiency program -- and someday, dynamic pricing offerings.