The next home energy battleground: the smart thermostat

Fancy dashboards that can monitor and control a home’s energy consumption haven’t really caught on. But maybe that’s because the dashboard is the wrong device. Increasingly companies building home energy tools are focusing on making software for connected thermostats. Will the smart thermostat prove to be an easier way into the smart energy home?

This week connected thermostat maker Radio Thermostat Company of America said that it plans to integrate software from startup EnergyHub as the native software platform for its wireless thermostats. EnergyHub says its “Mercury” cloud-based thermostat service uses analytics to automate heating and cooling, leading to more energy efficiency, and helping consumers save up to 20 percent on energy bills.

Last week energy software startup Opower and building automation giant Honeywell (s HON) announced they plan to develop smart energy tools together, including the first device: a connected thermostat with Opower’s software and behavior analytics tools to increase energy efficiency.

Startup EcoFactor has been building up its connected thermostat service over the past few years, and released some impressive results this summer. EcoFactor says its results from ten different trials where it automated the process of turning up and down consumers’ thermostats can on average reduce a person’s home energy use by 17 percent compared to a programmable but non-optimized thermostat.

Clearly there’s real savings to be made via smart thermostats and software, and thermostats are something pretty much every home with central heating and cooling needs to have. The software and analytics to control connected thermostats can also sit in the cloud, so the thermostat itself can be cheap and barebones — it just needs the communications chip in it.

However, the barrier right now, is waiting for more and more connected thermostats to get installed. Consumers are slow to do this themselves, so companies will have to find other distribution channels, like utility deployments, building retrofits or broadband service providers like the cable companies.