Nest Learning Thermostat (gen 2)

Nest’s smart thermostat is about to get a bit smarter — no hardware or software upgrades required.

Today, Nest announced that it has partnered with several power companies across the country — NRG Energy, National Grid, Austin Energy, and Southern California Edison — to offer a variety of energy- and money-saving plans for 90 million people.

“We’ve been saving people a lot of energy, but couldn’t we do more?,” said Maxime Veron, the head of product marketing at Nest, in an interview with VentureBeat.

Veron notes that Nest’s auto-scheduling features already saves its customers around 20 percent on energy costs — so it took aim at other ways it could help make energy usage more efficient as well as save people money.

First off, Nest has announced Rush Hour Rewards, a new service that will let the thermostat adjust the temperature in your home around peak energy use periods. So instead of blasting your AC at a peak time, Nest could cool your home beforehand. Or it could allow the temperature in your house to increase slightly when you’re not home.

Power companies already let their customers opt-in to similar programs today, but those involve giving up the control of your house’s temperature entirely without much feedback. With Nest, you can chart the Rush Hour Rewards on your smartphone, and you can always revert the temperature if you don’t like the way it’s being optimized.

According to Veron, Nest’s Rush Hour Rewards could save you 40 percent of your AC usage time. That’s a savings of about $20 to $60 per season.

Nest is also debuting a similar optimization feature for seasons, dubbed Seasonal Savings. Relying on what it’s learned about your home energy usage patterns, Nest can slowly decrease or increase the temperature of your home at the beginning of warm and cool seasons. Nest also takes your location into account, so it knows how to handle fall in New England versus fall in the Southwest.

The company says the minor Seasonal Savings changes could energy savings of 5 percent to 10 percent per season. That’s not much for one family, but across millions of Nest owners it’s certainly significant. Even better, the company says 80 percent of its Seasonal Savings customers stick with the optimized schedule.

Nest is also offering simpler rebates for energy companies to offer their customers. Unlike most other industries, energy companies (well, some) actually want their customers to be more efficient, since it makes the limited power grid much easier to manage. Rebates are one way to convince people to adopt high-tech thermostats like Nest, but they’ve traditionally involved lengthy paper forms and take weeks to issue a check.

The fix? Nest has worked together with National Grid in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to offer instant $100 rebates when you order one of its thermostats online. If successful (and I can’t imagine it won’t be), you can expect other energy companies to adopt this rebate eventually.

Nest is based in Palo Alto, Calif. Earlier this year, it was reportedly in the midst of raising $80 million in funding at an $800 million valuation.

Photo: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat