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Summary:

A startup selling a service that controls consumers’ smart thermostats for utilities has scored a deal for its service to be mass deployed throughout Las Vegas.

EcoFactorMap1

After testing out EcoFactor’s smart cloud-connected thermostat service in Las Vegas, Nevada utility NV Energy is now mass deploying the energy efficiency service throughout Sin City. The initial pilot project showed that EcoFactor’s service can cut homes’ cooling costs by 13 percent during the blazing Summer months, and can shave off 3 kilowatts of energy per home when the utility needs it.

EcoFactor has developed smart algorithms that can control connected thermostats to reduce a building’s overall energy consumption. The system learns the customer’s behavior and can shave off energy consumption without the occupant really knowing. The service can also enable utilities to practice what the power industry calls demand response, where during peak energy usage hours of the day (like a hot summer day) a utility can turn down the energy use of amenable customers.

NV Energy is offering the efficiency service to its customers under the mPowered brand, and those customers can see reduced energy bills. EcoFactor is supposed to enable NV Energy to cut a minimum of 20 MW in Las Vegas market during the first phase of the mass deployment.

The mass deployment is a major milestone for the development of more automated, more consumer-focused demand response services. For a long time demand response has been manual, where large building owners or factory owners agree to manually turn down their energy use during peak times in exchange for compensation. The utility would alert them to the demand response time by phone call or email. But with automated systems and residential-focused services, demand response can be much more efficient and convenient.

EcoFactor was founded in 2006 and launched in late 2009. Its software plugs in a lot of data about things like weather and demographics, and combines that data with information about the home owners’ behavior. Think of EcoFactor’s software like Nest’s learning thermostat, but without the Nest hardware. EcoFactor is also working with Reliant Energy and Comcast and is backed by Aster Capital, Claremont Creek Ventures and RockPort Capital Partner.

EcoFactor is an example of the rise of startups using big data and machine learning to reduce energy usage.

  1. Orcas Island TV Tuesday, November 13, 2012

    one of the key areas of concern for so-called smart grids is privacy. instrumenting everyone’s home with sensors sold as good for your economy are simply a giant information and control system for power-centralizers. Its wrong conceptually, leads to manipulation and less robust grid. A distributed, co-generation grid needs no centralized command and control.

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  2. Brendan Bartlett Tuesday, November 13, 2012

    I also noted that this article was missing any glowing endorsements on the part of the customers. I can hear (in my mind) some of them saying “of course it saves money and energy! I leave my house for 10 minutes and they decide to turn off my air conditioning. I get home to a stuffy hot house that doesn’t get comfortable until it’s time for bed.” (or something like that…)

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    1. It’s my understanding (from reading the Ecofactor promotional pamphlets) that Ecofactor isn’t deciding anything. In fact the system is a learning algorithm that pushes you to use less electricity while monitoring if you change the set point. It takes several weeks to ‘learn’ your behavior. Once this is done, it’ll run a standard schedule (like any smart thermostat) but at times will push a degree or two higher.

      You’d be surprised by how few people notice a single degree, but how much that can save them over a season. As ‘bob’ mentioned below, the program is also voluntary (for now).

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      1. Janey Bobbykitty Alderman Thursday, November 15, 2012

        You’d be shocked at just how miserable you can be by a change of two degrees. “The service can also enable utilities to practice what the power industry calls demand response, where during peak energy usage hours of the day (like a hot summer day) a utility can turn down the energy use of amenable customers.”

        You bet the utility is deciding for you. And it will also cool your house down so that it can use the savings later….again…take my house from 78 to 76 and my hands are freezing and I am miserable.

        Not many of us in NV have the AC set so low that we are fine with it going up a few degrees. It costs a fortune to begin with, so we already set our temps as high as possible to save what we can. If the energy comp decides I am “amenable” then I am definitely going to be so hot I won’t be able to stand it. You can’t tell in the fall and winter, but trust me, come summer, those extra few degrees will lead to higher blood pressure and headaches. And woe the person who loses internet access (because the internet is ALWAYS going down), then what?

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    2. That is because the Ecofactor Thermostat does not shut off your sysytems,It instead is Proactive rather than Reactive like a tradittional Thermostat. The Thermostats are using software to learn your individual homes Thermodynamics along with local Zip Coded information like , how long before the northern gets here or a long burst of cool wind effects the home then decides to engage the unit at an specific time that wont create a useless cool down if the cool wind will keep the home cool with out cycling A/C until needed.withing an acceptibale degree point.(LOCAL Weather) not a generalized setting.

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      1. Janey Bobbykitty Alderman Thursday, November 15, 2012

        Nolilshow: You haven’t understood them properly. At first they will be learning your patterns, THEN, they will be proactive and will be adjusting your thermostat based on THEIR needs. Peak times, they will raise your temps during the summer. Think about it….just learning from you isn’t a way for them to save any energy at all, the only energy savings is when they get to deny you the energy you normally would have been using. You use less, they charge you less. Simple as that….only you may not WANT to use less when they want you to. Under this system you are at their mercy.

        What THEY call an acceptable degree point and what YOU call acceptable will be dramatically different. If you want these savings, all you need to do is program your own thermostat to raise your temps during the heat of the day….VOILA!! Energy savings! If you think are fine with the temp a little higher then why are you paying extra anyway right now? If you think you will be uncomfortable with the temps a little higher, then why would you allow this system?

        This isn’t magic. This isn’t a savings. You don’t get to pay less per kilowatt than anyone else. This is them deciding when you will be allowed to use how much energy. Then they will alter your thermostat and raise the temps in your home so you are using less and paying less. If you alter your own thermostat you will see the exact same savings. If you have already altered your thermostat to the highest you can stand it because you don’t have money to throw out the window, then you will be miserable when they adjust your AC on you.

        Your home thermostat already regulates when it needs to go on and when it doesn’t based on wind patterns, and sun patterns and all that….when it gets hotter it kicks in. When them temps go down it doesn’t come on.

        Again….you want these savings….use less heat in the winter and less AC in the summer. But don’t you want to be in control?

        Read their own literature:

        ” It makes slight temperature adjustments” during peak times. Translated….when it is hot it will turn your AC up.

        “The web-based service optimizes how your thermostat and heating/cooling system work by making slight adjustments to your HVAC runtime and temperature settings.” Translation….it will “adjust” your AC so that it produces less AC…aka….it will turn your temp up.

        “During the peak summer months, on days when the demand for electricity is at its highest, NV Energy will occasionally initiate Energy Events. A signal is sent to your thermostat to increase the setpoint temperature up to 4 degrees. These events are optional and help reduce power consumption and electricity load to ensure a stable energy supply. By participating, you can earn Rebate Credits that get applied to your bill at the end of the year.” 4 degrees aint slight. 4 degrees is the difference between being ok and passing out. Yes, it appears you can try to over ride this change, but what if you are asleep? What if your baby is asleep and has a fever and you didn’t notice the change happening? What if your baby sitter has this lovely “feature” you don’t know it, and your baby gets a fever? If you don’t participate, I will guarantee you that you will see less if any savings. What will this change do to animals in the house? 4 degrees is a lot when you are already using the least amount of AC you can stand.

        “But remember, overriding a event may reduce the benefits of participation.” Again, you can opt out of this, but then you don’t get the savings they are promising you from all this, so why on earth do this?

        “The normal window for an event is weekdays between 1 p.m. and 7
        p.m. during the Summer Months (June 1 to September 30). Typically, an event will last 2-
        3 hours.” Yup….that’s infrequent. They will lower your AC prior to the event then let it go up to 4 degrees above where you would want your AC set. That is a heck of a lot of temperature adjustment in a short period of time.

        In the future there may be a cost to this lovely system.

        ” if a customer decides to leave the program within three
        years time, an early termination fee may apply if equipment is not returned in satisfactory
        working condition.” Oh yay! Don’t you just LOVE early termination fees? How am I supposed to make sure their bloody equipment works? If it doesn’t work that would be WHY I would be leaving the system.

        “For example, if your temperature set point is 80 degrees Fahrenheit, it may be
        substantially more efficient on certain days to run your air conditioner longer down to 78
        and then let the temperature float up to 82 degrees. Most people would never notice this.” EXCUSE ME??? Most people would never notice their home jumping up to 82 degrees?? Are you nuts? I can tell when it changes one degree…easily…and my husband and I constantly fight over this. They are going to be regularly be messing with your thermostat and changing your home temp 4 degrees. This isn’t the peak time stuff, no during that time they will jump you up to 84 degrees, and may drop you down 2 degrees before it all happens, so get ready for 6 degree or more jumps.

        “Typically, there is a monthly subscription fee for the service. Under the currently
        approved program, NV Energy is able to cover this fee on behalf of the customer for a
        limited timeframe” EXCUSE ME?????? THEY ARE GOING TO CHARGE YOU TO USE THIS SERVICE, AND THEY WILL CHARGE YOU IF YOU DROP THE SERVICE WITHIN 3 YEARS!!!

        Again……the fine print….they may charge YOU for this service in the future, you cannot terminate early without paying a fee, and all this so that they can adjust your home temp instead of you doing it yourself.

        Don’t be a sucker.

        https://www.nvenergy.com/home/saveenergy/rebates/mpowered/images/mPoweredFAQ.pdf

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  3. Thomas R Gabrielli Wednesday, November 14, 2012

    uh…. another thing missing in this article: cost to consumers to install these smart thermostats.

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    1. The cost is FREE to the consumer, as they are now participating within the NV Energy program. It’s a voluntary program, with the biggest incentive being home automation equipment (the thermostat and other equipment). The article doesn’t mention it because it’s not important to the overall plan of what Ecofactor is proposing. Incentives are governed by the utility/PUC (Public Utilities Commission), not by the vendor supplying the hardware.

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  4. Janey Bobbykitty Alderman Thursday, November 15, 2012

    I have a lot of questions:
    1. I am exceedingly sensitive to a one degree change in the thermostat. So are my pets. I set it at one temp and leave it there. If it changes while I am out of the house it could kill my pets. Isn’t this insane to let the company decide what temp my house will be?

    2. You need internet access. Well, sorry, but internet access isn’t terribly reliable. What if I go out of town, my internet goes down and my heat gets turned off, or my ac? Again…that would lead to dead animals. It is bad enough that the AC can go out, but to now have to rely on Cox cable for my AC? Are you nuts?????

    3. What if I don’t like the temp it decides for me? Sure, I know I know, it says it learns my patterns, but I don’t change the temp based on anything a computer can understand…I change it if I have someone over who is uncomfortable and I change it for them, or it is raining and I want to open the windows. None of that will be understood by a computer. How can it know that I love it hot at night unless it rains or my friend is over?

    4. I won’t be able to adjust my thermostat myself? If I can, then this can’t possibly lead to any savings because I will just put it back to where I have it all the time now anyway, and if it does lead to savings, then this gadget will be my biggest enemy.

    5. I have noticed a huge huge jump in energy costs the past few months and I swear it is because the energy company wants to get people to use this system….and any system that the company wants to use that takes control away from the customers….BEWARE!!!!! Especially if they are “offering” to “give” you this system for “free”. According to the sales pitch “mPowered offers a solution for home energy management in a way that’s more convenient than ever.” Convenient for whom???? Moving my thermostat when I want, how I want, in any way I want is currently exceedingly convenient for me, thank you.

    6. How about we get the state out of the way, allow competition, and get much cheaper energy companies competing and bringing the price down?

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  5. Janey Bobbykitty Alderman Thursday, November 15, 2012

    I read through the fine print carefully and was beyond shocked. I quote:

    “The program is
    completely voluntary; however, if a customer decides to leave the program within three
    years time, an early termination fee may apply if equipment is not returned in satisfactory
    working condition.” (I can tell you since history of early termination fees, there is almost always something wrong with the equipment and they nearly always charge the termination fee). You can bet if they say a fee MAY apply, it sure as heck WILL apply.

    and the kicker!!

    “Typically, there is a monthly subscription fee for the service. Under the currently
    approved program, NV Energy is able to cover this fee on behalf of the customer for a
    limited timeframe and a limited number of customers that enroll by 12/01/12.” in other words: they will CHARGE YOU for using this “feature”!!! So much for saving money!!!!! Oh, they won’t charge you today, but they will charge you after a “limited timeframe”. And how much? Well, if you read further it says that fees depend on regulatory approval. Nice….so they will charge you however much the state says they can charge you (the state is in charge of the regulation). Bottom line, they won’t tell you now, they can’t tell you now, but at some point they will be charging you to use this service and if you don’t like that charge and decide to quit before the 3 years is up, they will charge you an early termination fee. You are being hit with fees whether you stay or leave. So much for saving money!!! Can’t tell you now, but I can tell you if you terminate before 3 years is over we may charge you a lot of fees. Come on people!! The fine print is there. Don’t be a sucker.

    And you are subjecting yourself to all these fees for something you can do on your own anyway! This is a service that adjusts your temps in your house 4 degrees during normal hours and more than 6 degrees during peak times (it brings it down a few degrees and then bounces it up to 4 degrees above where you want your AC….they don’t tell you outright that it is 6 degrees, but they do say they will drop it down before peak time and then let it bound up 4 degrees….that equals a 6 degree swing at least depending on how low it goes, it could be even more.) I don’t know anyone who won’t notice a swing like that. I can’t imagine being comfortable under those conditions.

    All so that you can save some money by using less energy by using less AC.. Well, you can always use less AC and save yourself some money on your energy bill. You can set your AC so it blasts on high for a little while before peak times and then let it creep up to 84 degrees if you want to try it that way. Almost all AC units have a way to program them. If you don’t have your manual, look for it online. Or you can just set your AC higher than you normally do and save money that way. Whether you use this service or not, they will be charging all of us the same amount for a kilowatt of electricity. The only thing this service does is regulate your thermostat from afar so you use less energy and pay less. You can do that yourself.

    Here is the exact wording: “It’s easy and automatic! Instructions are sent to your thermostat in order to shift energy
    consumption outside of the timeframe of the Energy Event. Depending upon your home
    characteristics, the instructions may lower the temperature a bit before the event, and
    then let the temperature float up during the event (no more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit
    above your set point). At the end of the event, your air conditioner will automatically
    return to the previously programmed setting.” {In other words, you AC will go down a bit…2 degrees or so…and then up to 4 degrees higher than you wanted….aka around 6 degrees or more).

    and the events are long:

    “These events do not have a fixed start date, time, or duration and can vary based on
    conditions. However, the normal window for an event is weekdays between 1 p.m. and 7
    p.m. during the Summer Months (June 1 to September 30). Typically, an event will last 2-
    3 hours.”

    But don’t you want control over your own thermostat?? Especially if they are going to rake you over the coals by charging you for this service??????? And then charge you more if you don’t like the amount they charge you and decide to leave before the 3 year service contract is up????????

    AGAIN:

    BEWARE PEOPLE!!!! They will be CHARGING you for this “feature” in the future, and they may charge you if you leave early (when was equipment EVER in suitable working order if an early termination could be applied?), all so that they can keep track of your energy usage, and adjust your AC usage when they want and to ~4 degrees higher than you wanted your AC set in the first place!!!

    I am a lawyer and all the big secret to being a lawyer is that we read very carefully, and then read between the lines. For example when they say the will be covering the monthly fee for a select number of homeowners for a limited timeframe that means after some time period they will no longer cover the fee and WILL charge you a monthy fee.

    But you don’t have to trust me, in fact, I think you would nuts if you did. Read it all yourself. They put this all in writing. They just assume you won’t read it. https://www.nvenergy.com/home/saveenergy/rebates/mpowered/images/mPoweredFAQ.pdf

    AND THEY CALL THIS MPOWERMENT???? You are giving up all your control so they can take your money! Come on!!!!!

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  6. I’ve decided to terminate my service with EcoFactor. My babies wake up crying in the middle of the night because the power company turned the thermostat down to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Those of us already being frugal with our energy usage shouldn’t be turned down.

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  7. My Honeywell keeps my home at the temperature I set it at. I can tell when it changes a degree. Their EcoFactor thermostat allows a 5 degree temperature difference from when the furnace kicks on and when it shuts off. NVEnergy tries to tell me that this saves money when it does not. Setting it lower in the winter and higher in the summer when you are not at home saves money. I am uncomfortable going from hot to cold and back again. No one answers the phone at EcoFator. You are forced to leave a message and wait for them to call you back.

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