HOUSTON – Smart thermostats allow you to easily adjust the temperature of your home, even when you are not there. But you can also give others access to change your settings at any time without notice. KPRC 2 Investigates looked at what you need to know about who can control your smart thermostat and when.
Can your electricity supplier change the temperature in your home?
We don’t know exactly how many people volunteered to let their electric providers adjust their thermostats. We polled CenterPoint, ERCOT, and several electricity providers, but none gave us the total number. What we do know is that some customers may not even realize that they have given this permission to their utility company.
Rick O’Loughlin relies on fans to keep his Bear Creek home cool. He does his part to conserve energy by setting his thermostat to 80 degrees.
“As long as I keep the air moving, I’m comfortable,” O’Loughlin said.
But one day in May, he noticed a difference, as did his four-legged roommates.
“The dogs came in and they sat down for a minute. They were still panting. And I sweat,” says O’Loughlin.
When O’Loughlin checked his thermostat, it was set at 84 degrees. He adjusted it down and then it came back up. The same day and another day when O’Loughlin wasn’t even home.
“And I went there, it’s crazy,” he said.
A call to his retail electricity supplier TriEagle Energy revealed he had agreed to let the company adjust his thermostat when he installed this free smart thermostat they sent him last year.
“I like the idea of a smart home and I was like, ‘Oh, a smart thermostat. What a good thing. Anywhere in the world I can go and see what the temperature is in the house, I can control it,” he said.
O’Loughlin was unaware that TriEagle could also control him. He later admitted that he should have read the fine print. When our KPRC2 Investigates team started asking questions, we learned that if you sign up for an electricity provider’s demand response program, they can adjust your thermostat at any time, even if they don’t. there are no energy alerts from ERCOT.
ERCOT told us it hasn’t issued an energy alert day since February 2021, but a TriEagle representative told us the company can independently issue them as often as it wants and TriEagle has reduced ” often” the electricity of its customers this year.
“It was hot, heavy. I mean, obviously the humidity was coming in,” O’Loughlin said. “It was pretty miserable.”
When O’Loughlin called TriEagle, they couldn’t tell him or us how the company decides to adjust thermostats or by how many degrees, but TriEagle said customers can opt out of its response program. request at any time. O’Loughlin withdrew from the program.
Another thing we’ve learned is that electricity providers receive financial incentives for every kilowatt of electricity they are able to reduce through these demand response programs. TriEagle won’t tell us how much it earns when it adjusts customer thermostats, even when ERCOT and Centerpoint don’t ask us to save energy. You can learn more about the Texas Energy Code here.
More information on demand response programs
Full TriEagle statement:
“Across Texas, tens of thousands of customers participate in what are called demand response programs that help reduce pressure on the Texas grid during extreme weather conditions. ERCOT, TDUs (Transmission and Distribution Utility – like CenterPoint) and retail electricity providers are encouraging all Texans to participate as a way to conserve energy and save money on their energy bills. TriEagle Energy participates by offering customers selected energy plans with a smart thermostat at no additional cost. These smart thermostats allow customers to control their thermostat remotely and apply energy saving routines and can also be used to reduce demand during times of grid stress. When customers purchase one of these packages from TriEagle, they are also agreeing to participate in our demand response program, which will automatically adjust their thermostat’s set temperature by a few degrees for a short period of time, normally less than a hour, when the network experiences additional stress. (this may be called by ERCOT, TDUs or retail electricity providers). While customers accept this upfront as an important retention tool, they can still cancel the Demand Response event based on their unique needs each day, without penalty. »
CenterPoint’s full statement:
“Our residential load management program is implemented through the Texas Utilities Commission-approved portfolio of energy efficiency programs governed by 16 TAC § 25.181. As part of this program, CenterPoint Energy works directly with companies, known as program sponsors, who are incentivized to bundle residential customers in an effort to reduce peak demand.Program sponsors can be retail electricity providers, alarm service providers , load management aggregators, energy consultants and other entities. Participating Program Sponsors include residential customers who agree to participate in a Load Reduction Event, and Program Sponsors are compensated at a per kW” for each kW of verified demand reduction that occurs during a load reduction event.
Load reduction events can occur initiated by CenterPoint Energy in two ways:
1. In response to an Emergency Energy Alert (EEA) Level 2 notification issued by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas or if the Company anticipates that an EEA Level 2 notification will be issued. A maximum of five emergency events can be triggered, and events can last from one to four hours.
2. The company launches a test event to assess attendee readiness and validate demand savings. Two test events will be initiated by CenterPoint Energy and each event can last from one to four hours.
CenterPoint Energy will only initiate these discount events during the peak summer period of June 1, 2022 through September 30, 2022, Monday through Friday from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., excluding federal holidays.
Additionally, when a discount event is called, CenterPoint Energy notifies participating program sponsors who are responsible for initiating the discount with the residential customers they have enrolled in the program. CenterPoint Energy does not control thermostats or any equipment in the homes of residential customers. The frequency and duration of thermostat setbacks and the degree of adjustment are based on agreement between the program sponsors and their registered customers.
More information about ERCOT
In reference to questions about this specific case, ERCOT says it asked Texans to consider reducing their electricity use.
ERCOT explains the basics: “Normally base points received from resources are included in our regular dispatch engine and if for some reason our regular dispatch engine has not been updated within a certain period of time, emergency base points are used as a proxy in dispatch. In this case, ERCOT was undergoing a system change, so the dispatch engine was unavailable for a short time and emergency base points were deployed. This was a notice to market participants to inform them of the rollout and is required by the ERCOT protocol.
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