It's been a hot summer and because of it, most people have been running their air conditioners more than usual. Many of them have opted for a smart thermostat to run their home's heating and cooling. The devices do all the same things as a programmable thermostat, but since they are connected to the internet, they can do a lot more. Users can remotely control their settings using an app or computer, and smart thermostats help with energy efficiency by learning a household's preferences.
However, some smart thermostat owners have noticed this summer that when they try to lower its set temperature to cool off a room, after a short while, the thermostat's temperature settings have gone up again. It turns out that there is a reason this might be happening, and it's pretty creepy.
Because the smart devices are on the Internet, it means that the power company has the ability to go in and adjust the temperature settings as they see fit. This is usually done when high power usage threatens the grid, as a way for the power companies to prevent brownouts. That's just what happened during a recent heat wave in Texas. Families there reported turning on the air conditioner before going to sleep, only to wake up soon after sweating because their smart thermostat was turned up remotely by the power company.
How can this happen? Well that family in Texas had signed up for a program called "Smart Savers Texas" that offered them a chance to win up to $5,000 off their energy bills, but they missed the fine print, which states that by enrolling they give the power company permission to mess with their thermostat during high-demand periods.
Similar programs exist all over the country, many of them offering incentives, but not all of them make it clear that joining means giving up control of your thermostat at times. Many of tech companies that make the thermostats are in full cooperation with the power companies. Google's Nest, Vivint, Lux, Alarm.com, Radio Thermostat, Sensi and ecobee all work with a company called Energy Hub, which runs the Smart Savers Texas program. Sometimes the tech companies are even the ones offering these programs. Google's Nest has a "Rush Hour Rewards" program where if you sign up you'll get a gift card. The amount of the card varies depending on where you live, but what stays the same is that the program lets power companies alter your temp.
If you start to notice strange things happening with your thermostat, you might have inadvertently signed up for a program that allows the power company to adjust your settings. Give them a call to check if that's the case and, if you are ever in doubt or see weird things going on with your thermostat, you can always just take it off of your wifi temporarily.