Many Texans just found out they gave energy companies remote control of their thermostats
In case news sites haven’t made it painfully clear by now, today is Amazon Prime Day (sorry, we have to pay the bills somehow). As always, there are a ton of deals on tech, including a lot of smart home tech. But be careful about buying a new smart thermostat: If you blindly opt into an energy savings program, you’re giving your energy company permission to remotely control the temperature during periods of peak energy use, as many residents of Texas just found out over the weekend.
With an extreme heat wave hitting many parts of the southwest U.S., families are scrambling to keep themselves cool by any means necessary. When everyone does that, energy usage spikes, and that’s causing issues for the Texas power grid. Last week, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) asked Texans to voluntarily reduce their energy usage to prevent another blackout like the one that happened back in February. ERCOT specifically asked residents to set their thermostats to 78 degrees (or higher) to conserve energy. Some Texans are now finding out that they’ve already volunteered to do just that…they just weren’t aware of it.
Over on the /r/Houston subreddit, many Texans noticed (via KHOU) that their smart thermostats had automatically raised their home’s temperature. Smart thermostats from brands like Nest or Ecobee were among those that were affected, though it should be noted that affected users were likely part of energy savings programs like Nest’s Rush Hour Rewards or Ecobee’s Community Energy Savings. While these programs are usually opt-in, many people — especially those who get a smart thermostat on a discount or for free from their energy provider — often don’t realize what they’re consenting to when they enlist their thermostat into the program or add their utility company during setup.
I live near Houston, bought my Google Nest Thermostat last year at full price, and didn’t opt into Rush Hour Rewards, and I was not part of the group that had their smart thermostat automatically raise the temperature. If that happened to you and you want to keep cool during the sweltering Texas summer, then you should opt out of the energy savings program (at least temporarily). Hopefully, the Texas energy grid will be able to survive this summer, because I doubt many are prepared for a summer with no AC. (I sure as hell am not!)