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Power United States

California Utilities to Control Thermostats? 503

TeraBill writes "It seems that the California Energy Commission is looking to give utilities in the state the power to control the thermostats in private homes via a radio signal. The idea is that during times of significant energy crunch, the utilities could force thermostats to higher temperatures rather than having to implement a rolling blackout. The thermostats have been around for a while and new ones were on display at the CES show in Vegas this week. While I can see the argument for it, we just had a kid take over a tram system with a remote control, so how long before our thermostat gets hacked by the neighbors. And I'd almost rather have the power drop than have someone significantly raise the temperature in my home if I had a computer running there. (UPS and a graceful shutdown versus cooking something.)"
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California Utilities to Control Thermostats?

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  • by Bazman ( 4849 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @06:47AM (#22012790) Journal
    ..remember that California is HOT. The thermostats referred to are connected to air conditioning, not, as I first thought, heating systems!

  • by Kludge ( 13653 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @07:07AM (#22012884) []

    Having everyone pulling power willy-nilly from a facility with limited output is a dumb idea. Regulating a more even amount of power to everyone is smarter.
  • by ScottBob ( 244972 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @07:08AM (#22012892)
    They already have a system like this in place in south Louisiana, some electricity co-ops use load management terminals, which look like a separate electric meter connected to the air conditioner. On hot summer days, they'll shut off the A/C for up to half an hour, to prevent overload to the grid and save money. They don't shut everybody's A/C off at once, they "roll" the shutoffs through the neighborhoods. It can be a bit of an inconvenience because of the temperature rise in your house, but if your house is well insulated, you won't notice it that much. The system is totally voluntary, and you even get a minor rebate on your electric bill.
  • by butlerdi ( 705651 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @07:16AM (#22012936)
    And I'd almost rather have the power drop than have someone significantly raise the temperature in my home if I had a computer running there

    What the hell you running in there ? California, with the exception of the Central Valley and a few deserts (not all that populated) is not all that hot. I have run almost all forms of workstations sans AC in 40C + weather with no adverse effects.
  • by MichaelCrawford ( 610140 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @07:24AM (#22012988) Homepage Journal
    Quite a while back, maybe ten years ago or so, I read that the Electric Power Research Institute was proposing that each power and light socket have a unique IP address so that they could be remotely controlled by the power company, for the same reason as given here - to reduce consumption at peak times, and to prevent rolling blackouts.

    That wasn't feasible at the time, as they would have quickly run out of available addresses, but now with IPv6 that's not such a problem anymore. I expect that the proposal will resurface again soon.

  • by Mike89 ( 1006497 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @08:30AM (#22013344)

    So why not? Why not build more capacity to California and other parts of US?
    It's not cost effective. I'm from Australia, but I feel I can still answer your question because my father has worked in the electricity industry and explained it all to me as a kid. Here in Melbourne, we have a few days a year of blackouts, typically. This is because in the peak of summer, the grid gets overloaded and rolling blackouts are implemented. Now, for the rest of the year, capacity is plentiful - the few days of overload doesn't provide enough incentive to upgrade, because for the rest of the year the network is overcompensating.

    Sorry if I didn't explain it very well, it's been a long day ;)
  • Re:Reasonable idea (Score:3, Informative)

    by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @08:51AM (#22013468) Homepage
    Makes quite a lot of sense. It will require rewiring most homes though.
  • You want to know why Carter is believed to be the worst president? Start with Carters economic policies that caused 17% annual inflation, go from there.
    You mean the Inflation that started under Nixon? That later got under control because Carter appointed Paul Volcker as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, who was so good that even Reagan couldn't find anyone better?
  • Re:Grow Houses (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 12, 2008 @12:54PM (#22015442)
    The bypass the meters with anything above what would be a normal houses power usage, so they never get charged for the extra power.
    Sometimes the power company will notice an abnormal load in an area & send a truck out to investigate. This is why growsers will drop everything they're doing to get to the growhouse and shut it down, or in some cases switch to generator power untill the truck is long gone out of the area.

    It's not uncommon to have 10 one-thousand watt HPS/MH lamps in a single room for small to mid-sized operations.
  • by stevew ( 4845 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @01:59PM (#22016162) Journal
    Well - just to let you know - I think that you have a few details wrong.

    I've lived in CA all my life (over 50) and have lived through a couple of droughts that are far worse than this one has been. CA has implemented mandatory water conservation at least twice at the county level in my life time. I've personally lost a lawn that cost me $1500 to install because of it. Business's turn off fountains and other water displays in the normal course of these things AND the watering you see at the commercial parks (at least in Silicon Valley) is typically from re-cycled water that isn't fit to drink. The other detail you don't mention is that most of the watering that is going on is also helping to fill the aquifer that is one of the sources of water - it actually is part of getting pure water back from the recycled water.

    Further, the (*^(^# state has grown it's population in the last 30 years. We've gone from 19 million in 1979 to around 35 million right now. I would LOVE to see the population back in the 19 million range - but that isn't happening so we do what we can.

    Then you have the wonderful court orders that shut down major water projects like East Bay MUD (yeah - I know it's a corny name) that puts their water supply down through the CA delta. But the fish are more important the humans so they can't take the water back out after it's been injected into the delta - meaning they have to go get water from other sources.

    Now you tell me the (*#$^ state wants to control my thermostat - I don't think so. This is a half backed piece of nonsense. Next they'll be telling me not to have kids.

    Screw that noise.
  • Re:Horrible... (Score:3, Informative)

    by KefabiMe ( 730997 ) <> on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:15PM (#22017086) Journal

    A lot of people here seem mad that the government is controlling people's thermostats. THIS IS NOT THE CASE!!!

    I suspect this is similar to a program Southern California Edison already has in place. If you are a homeowner, you can have Edison install a remote kill switch to your A/C unit. Then, during the summer, Edison can cut your A/C for 30 minutes to 4 hours.


    • This program is completely VOLUNTARY
    • The homeowner chooses the maximum time they want their A/C to be cut. You can tell Edison to cut your A/C only an hour at a time.
    • YOU GET PAID FOR IT. It's not very much, but I figure that it's cheaper than it would cost to build new power generating plants, and it's *more environmentally friendly* too!

    Compared to this program already in place, raising the thermostat a few degrees is less invasive then getting your A/C shut off for a couple hours.

  • The real facts (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 12, 2008 @04:03PM (#22017558)
    California is going to mandate that all new homes have a thermostat with a ZigBee radio so that it can talk to the new meters that will be installed as part of the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) program that is now underway. All three major utilities in California (PG&E, SDG&E, and SCE) expect to have all their meters replaced with new "smart" meters by 2012. This will include both residential and commercial customers.

    There will NOT be any mandatory thermostat adjustments. Enrollment in the program will be optional. If you do enroll, during critical power shortages, your thermostat will be set a few degrees higher. In exchange, you receive a better rate for ALL your power. Even after your thermostat has been adjusted, you will be able to override the settings, but you will pay a penalty for doing so, since you signed up the for the program.

    All the people complaining that the utility should just build more infrastructure do not understand the issues regarding power demand. In California, there are perhaps 10 days a year where we are critically short on power. At those times the power companies are buying every bit of power they can, even though they may be paying TEN TIMES the normal price. However, if enough power is not available, they have to start rolling blackouts to keep the grid intact. Doesn't it make more sense to reduce the consumption on those peak days? Of course, there is another choice. Start charging people a higher price when it costs the utility more to generate or purchase electricity. You will see this soon. Power will cost more during the day (at least in areas where air conditioning is the major load) and a lot less at night. During power shortages, pwoer might cost many times the regular price. This would reflect the true cost of the power.

    As for who is a fault with the current situation, it has been almost impossible to build any new transmission lines or power plants for quite some time. SDG&E just recently tried to start building a "peaker" plant that only will run during power shortages - the same 10 or so days I mentioned before. The plant will emit about the same annual pollution as 15 cars. It is powered by natural gas. Everyone in the area where they are building are protesting (it is fairly close to a school). The same people who sit outside the school idling their SUVs for 20 minutes every day waiting for their kids are protesting a natural gas power plant that will help prevent blackouts. Give me a break!

    I fail to see how anyone could be against conserving power during shortages. I also am disappointed that so many people can be so uninformed, yet still feel qualified to comment.

  • by jroysdon ( 201893 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @10:05PM (#22020718) Homepage
    We already have this in Modesto Irrigation District [] for at least 4 years. It's optional at this point, but I've signed up for it every place I've lived. You get a $5/month credit during the 5 peak months for letting them install this box on your AC unit. Basically, during peak times they can tell your AC to not run for up to 15 minutes per hour. So it's not like you're without AC. For 45 minutes it's on, for 15 off, and so on, and only during peak times. With a regular fan (the kind on a stand that moves left to right, right to left, repeat) pushing the air around you don't even notice it.
  • Old news. Southern California Edison has been offering the ability to do this for awhile by adding an external device on the outside compressor... []

    As others have noted, this is also done by other utility companies throughout the U.S. too. For instance, Austin Energy (in Texas) also offers a radio controlled thermostat program: []

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