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Chartwell Opportunities for next-gen thermostats could bloom this spring

Laura Kier

December 23, 2011

By Russ Henderson

A new image of the smart thermostat was planted in the popular imagination in November. The introduction of the Nest – a sleek, circular wall-mounted unit designed by former Apple designer Tony Fadell – was one of many notable stories this year in the field of home energy management, including the launch of EnergyHub’s Mercury thermostat and a new partnership between Honeywell and Opower to produce similar products. All this excitement could yield utility investment, especially if the EPA revives Energy Star certification for these devices in the spring.

Even the massive hype surrounding the Nest’s launch and the thousands of homeowners who flocked to buy them didn’t revive the faith of many utility executives. They asked: Where is the field test data?

The reason for the question is this. In 2009, the EPA stopped granting Energy Star certification for programmable thermostats because field tests by utilities – most notably Florida Power & Light – showed that the homeowners who used them actually burned through about 12% more electricity than folks without the supposedly cost-saving thermostats. As it turned out, users generally programmed the thermostats to perform in very energy-inefficient ways.

Whether the new generation of thermostats – or their users – will perform better remains unclear.

For one, EnergyHub claims that its Mercury thermostat platform has solved the usability problem. David Wechsler, vice president for business development, says that in field tests conducted last year by the company, 85% of users picked comfort settings that met or exceeded Energy Star efficiency recommendations. This compares to 71% of users in the Florida Power & Light study who either didn’t program their thermostats at all or created settings that were so slight their effect was negligible.

Read the full article from Chartwell here

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