Smart thermostats

have the ability to save homes and small businesses significant amounts of money. The secret is that people have to actually use the thermostats.

Historically, smart thermostats have been vastly underutilized. Difficult to program and easy to override, the majority of smart thermostats were set to ‘hold’ and never revisited.

That is starting to change with more novel connected thermostat programs that help people understand how their thermostat settings affect their wallets. EnergyHub’s Mercury smart thermostat platform just released data showing how Michigan consumers could save by adjusting their thermostats up or down a few degrees.

Instead of choosing a set point when you register your 3M thermostat with the Mercury platform, you don’t pick a temperature, you pick a comfort level: super efficiency, high efficiency, standard, low efficiency and very low efficiency. And if you decide that you want to push the thermostat up in winter, or down in summer, the system -- whether online or a mobile app -- will tell you how much that temperature will raise your bill, amounting to about 3 percent for each degree.

In Michigan, however, the savings for people using the EPA default set point of 64 degrees came out to be a 5.4 percent reduction in heating cost per degree compared to the state average, which works out to be about a savings of $30 per month for three degrees.

Of course, winter doesn’t use nearly the same electricity as summer, when cooling is powered by electricity. In Michigan, most heating is natural gas, but “many Michigan customers pay double price per kilowatt-hour over 600 kilowatt-hours/month in summer, so the savings during cooling season could be huge,” said Seth Frader-Thompson, CEO of EnergyHub.

Currently, EnergyHub’s Mercury platform is free with a 3M thermostat, but there will likely be paid services that will be layered on in the future. For the first time, this summer there will be hundreds of thousands of homes using different wireless thermostats either on their own or as part of demand response programs like the ones offered by Oklahoma Gas &Electric or TXU Energy.

Overall, growth of the home energy management sector has not been as spectacular as many had hoped, but there is steady and real growth of home energy management that started in 2011 and is expected to grow throughout 2012.

“Every state is different, obviously,” said Frader-Thompson, “but we're very excited to see what the data tells us as we get deep into summer.”