August 17, 2011
| by Steven Castle
Set it and forget it: This has become the new mantra for energy-efficient technologies, especially in the home. Because let’s face it: Few of us really want to deal with kilowatt hours and BTUs other boring metrics of our energy use.
Yet most of us would like to save some money on our energy bills, without sacrificing our comfort. So what’s the answer? Smarter homes with smarter home technologies that automatically turn things on and off when we forget—and so we don’t have to bother.
Enter a company called EcoFactor. Its sophisticated cloud-based software works with off-the-shelf two-way communicating thermostats to make many unnoticeable micro-adjustments in your thermostat’s set temperature—ultimately saving you energy and money.
In trials the company has conducted with numerous service providers, EcoFactor claims it has reduced energy bills by 17 percent, which it says average about $30 per month for homes with a single thermostat and about $55 per month for those with multiple thermostats. That’s not just significant. It’s bonk-you-over-the-head significant.
Here’s how EcoFactor works: The company says its program gathers thousands of data points from homes, including the outside weather, a home’s heating and cooling system and the thermal characteristics of a house.
EcoFactor “talks to” the thermostat every 60 seconds, and based on all its data, makes tiny adjustments to the set point of the thermostat. It might turn it up a half a degree or more, or turn it down, depending on all the variables. Scott Hublou, cofounder and senior vice president of products for EcoFactor, calls this picking up nickels. Only EcoFactor might do this 70 to 80 times a day, or 1,300 times a month, or 14,000 times a year. (Yes, the math doesn’t quite add up, but the nickels do.)
Hublou says the program can determine the thermal characteristics of a house and the state of the heating or cooling system by using the two-way communicating thermostat as a sensor. “With two-weeks worth of data, I can start understanding the thermal characteristics of the home. How does the weather affect inside temperature?” With this answered, EcoFactor can determine the thermal envelope of the home and how well it retains or loses cool air and heat. “Then, how does the HVAC system respond to that?” With this info, EcoFactor can judge the relative state of the heating and cooling systems and begin to make those very minor adjustments, only customized to how your home and HVAC system work.
Such technology could be the basis for true smart home automation.
Although the company has won awards and was named a top 15 utility technology this year, it is looking primarily for distribution through service providers such as cable companies, telcos and security providers. Hublou says EcoFactor will have some big announcements this fall concerning partnerships, though it may not include ADT and Comcast/Xfinity that are already rolling out security and home systems with some basic home energy management.
In a utility rollout with Oncor in the Dallas area, EcoFactor subscribers are paying $9 a month, and Hublou says the company expects service providers to price the offerings similarly.
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates