Are power companies taking over your smart thermostat?

Are power companies taking over your smart thermostat?

Have you ever seen your smart thermostat go rogue? Galveston, Texas, resident Shelby Rogers recently did, and discovered that her power company had manually changed her air conditioning unit to be set at 80 F.

At the time, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the Texas power grid, had called for power companies to work to conserve electricity, which can include working with smart thermometer companies to adjust the temperatures inside individual homes.

Rogers told AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell that when her family bought the smart thermostat, they did not sign up through their utility company.

"Being able to control parts of people's homes is a little concerning, especially when it's not something that we remember consciously agreeing to," Rogers told Wadell.


Rogers was likely enrolled in tech company EnergyHub's "Smart Savers Texas" program, which says that in exchange for entry into a sweepstakes, customers can allow their utility company to control their temperature during periods of high demand.

"During a demand-response event, Smart Savers Texas increases the temperature on participating thermostats by up to 4 degrees to reduce energy consumption and relieve stress on the grid," Erika Diamond, EnergyHub's vice president of customer solutions, told Insider.

EnergyHub says that programs like these are voluntary and that people can opt-out at any time.

Air conditioning helps people beat the heat, but it also takes a lot of electricity to cool a home. (AccuWeather / Bill Wadell)

One family in Deer Park, Texas, found that their thermostat had manually changed while members of the family, including a 3-month-old girl, took a midday nap.

"Was my daughter at the point of overheating?" Deer Park resident Brandon English said to KHOU 11. "She's 3 months old. They dehydrate very quickly."

English unenrolled his thermostat from the program as soon as he learned of its existence.


EnergyHub officials said that more than 600,000 smart thermostats in 23 different states can be manually changed by utility providers.

Back in 2008, former California Assemblyman Rick Keene, who served as the vice chairman of the Utilities and Commerce Committee, spoke out against measures that allowed electric utilities to manually override temperature controls.

"It certainly gives utilities and government a little more reach into our homes than I was comfortable with," Keene told Wadell.

Keene refuses to get a smart thermometer in his home, not wanting others to control his interior temperature. Rogers and her family disconnected her unit from the Wi-Fi, taking the "smart" out of her smart thermometer.

"It kinda goes against the whole point of having a Wi-Fi thermostat, but that lets you control it and no one else can tap into it," Rogers said.

Extreme summer heat has been baking the middle of the nation, with Texas being ground zero. Residents of Texas cities, including Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, have been enduring lengthy stretches of triple-digit heat. With the dog days of summer well underway, it may be a good idea to check the fine print before hooking up a new smart thermometer.

Reporting by Bill Wadell

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