A land grab emerges over the connected thermostat


For years thermostats have been ugly and downright stupid devices that sit neglected on our walls. But over the past 18 months the connected thermostat has morphed into a gadget that has been drawing the attention of some of the most cutting-edge software startups, which are looking to use it to connect with utilities and consumers.

A Khosla Ventures-backed energy analytics startup called Bidgely is the latest to go after the next-gen smart thermostat, and it has told us that it has an agreement with thermostat maker Emerson to commercialize a thermostat in the coming months that syncs with Bidgely’s energy software. Bidgely’s algorithms can take home energy data and section out which appliances in the home are consuming what amount of power, without having extra hardware or sensors on each plug or appliance.

EmersonConsumers that can get that type of data can see, for example, if their pool pump is consuming too much energy in the winter time, or if their air conditioning unit is sucking down much more power than the average (see itemized bill). Utilities could offer such a smart thermostat to customers in their areas that want to be included in energy efficiency programs. Emerson’s thermostat wirelessly connects to smart meters or a home router with a Zigbee connection.

The deal between Emerson and Bidgely isn’t all that unique in the rapidly growing energy software sector. Emerson is also working with other software startups like EcoFactor, EnergyHub, and Calico Energy to have its thermostat sync with their software, too.

Next week at a major utility conference called Distributech, all of the energy software startups and large energy giants will be touting their smart, connected thermostats; including both new thermostat models and new services. The thermostat is a unique device. It’s an object that can provide demand response services for utilities, or the collective turning down of utility customers’ energy use during peak times (like a hot summer day in Texas). Software startups like EcoFactor can create algorithms that can do this, without making the climate of a home uncomfortable for the inhabitant.

BidgelyOn the other hand, because of its prominent placement in the home, the thermostat also has the potential to have a unique relationship with consumers. That’s the neglected path that Nest has chosen, designing a coveted thermostat to sell directly to consumers that can shave 15 percent to 30 percent off of air conditioning and heating bills.

The thermostat is also the latest device to become part of the growing world of the Internet of Things. In this always-on connected ecosystem, everything gets a connection, all devices are made smarter with software and data and these devices can make human lives easier, more interesting or more efficient.

Nest is one of the few that’s aggressively targeting consumers. Most of the energy startups are aiming for the utility market. One of the better known collaborations around a thermostat maker and an energy software company is between Opower and Honeywell. Honeywell is the giant in the thermostat maker market, and Opower is the leading energy software player.

Make sure to watch the buzz around thermostats next week at the Distributech show. We’ll be at the event and will be covering all the latest in energy software and connected energy devices.

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