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Fighting Climate Change with your Thermostat

The news is abuzz with climate crises from California and Australian Wildfires to devastating hurricanes and typhoons. These extreme events impact individuals and frontline communities, and their effects are only intensifying as a result of human caused climate change. 

It is easy to feel powerless to make a difference in the face of the climate crisis. But no large scale change has ever happened without individual action. We need individuals to participate. One opportunity is the thermostat on your wall. It is one of many ways you can help reduce our dependence on the same fossil fuels that add to climate change and diminish our voices in democracy.

 How do smart thermostats help?

There are several ways in which smart thermostats can help reduce energy usage. First and foremost – smart thermostats can turn themselves down. If you leave the house and forget to turn down the thermostat, it will do it for you. Smartstats, as they are commonly referred, can take some of the thinking off your plate, while still giving you control when you want it.

Second, when you connect your thermostat to wifi, it can adjust to the needs of the electrical grid. There are often some concerns around this point, so let us explain why it is important. 

Let’s start with the grid. Our electricity in Oregon comes from a variety of fuel sources including hydro, coal, natural gas, wind, and solar. Coal and natural gas are both fossil fuels and burning them for electricity adds carbon pollution that contribute to air quality issues and climate change. Public interest demands reduction in these fuel sources. 

Now, let’s go to our homes. Humans have similar behaviors and needs to one another. The largest spike in electricity demand on a daily basis is between 4 and 8 pm, when people are getting off work, cooking dinner, and turning on lights, heat, and other electronics. Similarly, on really hot days in the summer and cold days in the winter, energy usage spikes to cool and heat our homes. These spikes require more electricity by turning on additional natural gas and coal power plants. 

That is where your smartstat can come in and help reduce the energy demand for a short window of time. 

How does that work?

Let’s use a hot, summer day as an example. When the temperature spikes, so does the demand for air conditioning. The utility calls these spikes peak demand, and they are predictable based on weather and electricity forecasts. Ahead of time they can forecast an “event”, say, between 2 and 4 pm, when they know energy consumption is going to spike. If you keep your house at 72 degrees in summer, the utility will lower your temperature to say 70 degrees prior to 2 pm, before the peak. Then, it will raise the thermostat to 75 during the 2-4 pm spike, so the AC comes on less frequently. Since your house was pre-cooled, it should be able to stay comfortable until the end of the event, when your thermostat will go back to 72. The utility may request to do this 3 to 8 times a summer.

It can sound invasive, but if you are ever uncomfortable, you can override the event and set the thermostat wherever you like. You still have ultimate control over your home.

Participation is important though. Peak demand in electricity also means peak fossil fuel usage, peak emissions, and peak pricing. Finding all that excess power can be very expensive which raises your rates over time. For that reason, if you participate in the demand response from the utility, they will pay you. That’s how valuable it is to be able to adjust many thermostat a small amount for a short period of time.

A study of smart thermostats found a 10-12% reduction on heating and a 15% reduction on cooling. The Drawdown Project, an in-depth plan exploring carbon reduction, estimates that smartstats could lead to $640 Billion in savings to 704 Million homes and a reduction of 2.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. That means $900 savings per home.

For homes that income qualify, Community Energy Project, will install a smart thermostat for free. Please call or email us today to see if your home is compatible.

An additional note:

This article is intended to highlight one technology that is part of the solutions for a cleaner, more equitable future. Many other programs and actions are necessary, which is why CEP is actively exploring programs that deliver cost and energy savings to low-income, frontline communities.

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