Anger erupts in Texas as ‘smart thermostats’ raise home temperatures for some customers

The electric grid in Texas continues to struggle to keep up with electricity demand as a result of higher than normal temperatures, and low output from wind turbines.

As a result, Texans were urged to reduce electricity consumption, but some Lone Star State residents were angry after learning that the company EnergyHub was using their smart thermostats to remotely raise the temperature in their households.

According to KHOU 11:

Some neighbors in the Houston area said their homes have been much warmer this week, even while they are running their air conditioners.

Many of them claim someone has been turning up the temperature on their thermostats since the energy shortage began.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas asked Texans to turn up the temperatures on their thermostats this week.

When Deer Park resident Brandon English  got home from work on Wednesday, his house was hot.

“(My wife) had it cranked it down at 2:30,” English said. “It takes a long time for this house to get cool when it gets that hot.”

English’s wife and their daughters decided to take their afternoon nap earlier in the day.

“They’d been asleep long enough that the house had already gotten to 78 degrees,” English said. “So they woke up sweating.”

Without anyone touching it, they said their thermostat was changed while they were sleeping, making their home unbearably hot.

“Was my daughter at the point of overheating?” English said. “She’s 3 months old. They dehydrate very quickly.”

While it is understandable that people would be upset by the temperatures rising in their homes, it is important to note that these residents signed up for this type of service. According to KHOU 11:

The family’s smart thermostat was installed a few years ago as part of a new home security package. Many smart thermostats can be enrolled in a program called “Smart Savers Texas.” It’s operated by a company called EnergyHub.

The agreement states that in exchange for an entry into sweepstakes, electric customers allow them to control their thermostats during periods of high energy demand. EnergyHub’s list of its clients includes TXU Energy, CenterPoint, and ERCOT.

English said he unenrolled their thermostat as soon as he found out.

“I wouldn’t want anybody else controlling my things for me,” he said.

Programs like these can help reduce the strain on the electric grid, but people should understand what they are signing up for when they agree to be entered into a sweepstakes or receive a lower electricity rate with these strings attached.

Luckily, Texas residents were able to manually readjust their thermostat to their comfort level. However, efforts to reduce electricity consumption will likely become more common in the future as the grid becomes more dependent on unreliable wind and solar generators.

There is nothing inherently wrong with these types of arrangements, but Minnesota electricity customers should carefully evaluate whether opting into a program that restricts their electricity use during periods of high grid stress in exchange for lower prices is a tradeoff they truly wish to make.

Unfortunately, many wind and solar advocates don’t see these types of electricity-rationing programs as a problem. In fact, they think we should increase the number of these programs — which they call ‘demand response’ programs — to reduce the demand for electricity, rather than increase the supply.

In the end, “demand response” programs are the opposite of Motel 6 slogan — “We’ll turn the lights out on you.”