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Bursting onto the scene with a new utility deal today, EcoFactor offers software for two-way thermostats to make them so smart that they can adjust your home temperature the way you like it without you raising a finger.
Taking past behavior, peak energy demand and even outside weather into account, it automatically dials heating and air conditioning systems up or down, keeping end users comfortable while trimming their electricity bills, the Redwood City, Calif., startup says.
EcoFactor has now partnered with major Texas utility Oncor to reduce its peak energy demand by 3 megawatts. This might seem like a small amount, but the pilot-scale deal will only involve a sample of households.
Texas is a unique environment for the company’s ramp up. Deregulation of the state’s utility market means consumers can freely choose between energy vendors based on the quality and variety of services offered. Offering to install a smart thermostat that could save customers even more money could be an effective way for Oncor to inspire brand loyalty.
EcoFactor also answers one of the biggest concerns in the growing Smart Grid and energy efficiency industries today: That simply presenting consumers with data on their energy use and spending won’t be enough to permanently change their behavior. In order to make conservation the rule, it needs to be taken out of human hands. That’s the idea behind smart refrigerators that make ice only at off-peak times, and clothing dryers that only run when other major appliances aren’t. The experience is the same for their owners while energy is being saved.
As is, people generally come home toward the end of the day and punch the temperature in their home up or down until it reaches an ideal level. You can do the same thing with an EcoFactor-based thermostat, only it remembers exactly what you did and what the surrounding conditions were like when you did it. Say it’s 5 p.m. and it’s chilly and rainy outside, so you up the heat to 75 degrees in your home. The next time these conditions are approximated, the thermostat (which can gauge weather by zipcode) will know what to do. Don’t worry, users can override these settings if they really want to.
At the same time that it’s adjusting according to memory and temperature, the EcoFactor software will determine how much energy it can save while still keeping a building’s occupants happy. The company says its thermostats can create a rough model of ideal temperature patterns after as little as three days of use, and could — when in full use — save people as much as 30 percent off their regular air conditioning bills. The company arrived at this figure following test runs in various locales, including Minneapolis, Minn., and Australia.
With its sometimes extreme weather conditions (especially hot summers), Texas should put EcoFactor’s product to the test. Thermostats could gradually cool homes in the hours preceding customers’ return from work or school. Less energy is wasted that way than by punching up air conditioning in one swoop to lower internal temperature fast. This would also prevent people from turning the cool air on high during peak energy periods when power is at its most expensive.
There are several other companies working on similar solutions — Tendril, Ecobee, and General Electric among them — but EcoFactor says its competitors are mostly working on one-size fits all products that assume everyone is comfortable at the same temperatures. They don’t remember behavior or take other conditions into account, the company claims. This might not be entirely the case — Ecobee does let you program your thermostat so it adjusts by itself in the future — but EcoFactor does seem to be a more holistic and automated offering.
The company, which has been fairly stealthy until now, is funded by angel investors. It is in the process of raising a first round of venture financing. It’s also bringing in revenue, especially now that it’s working with the largest utility in Texas in preparation for a larger deployment.
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