June 04, 2012
| by Steven Castle
One of our favorite energy-saving innovations is from EcoFactor, a cloud-based software company that uses a home’s connected thermostat to automate energy savings so you don’t have to do much of anything to save energy and money. Now, with some new features and a new web-based user interface, EcoFactor looks like it’s ready to make some serious energy-saving waves.
If it works well, EcoFactor could enable automated, set-it-and-forget-it energy savings, which many experts believe is needed to get many of us to actually save energy in our homes.
EcoFactor uses a connected and communicating thermostat as a sensor to determine the thermal envelope (insulation and building tightness) of a home and how well the heating or cooling system is performing, then adds info like the local weather, other data points and advanced algorithms so the cloud-based software can make many micro-adjustments—like a degree or fraction of a degree—to the thermostat’s set point. Make enough of these micro-adjustments, and EcoFactor says you can save about 17 percent on your heating and cooling, as the company has done in trials. And your comfort shouldn’t be compromised.
EcoFactor isn’t available through retail; it’s being marketed through utilities rolling out smart grid programs and service providers like Comcast, which plans to use it with its Xfinity Home service. Utility partners include Oncor in Texas and NV Energy in Nevada.
EcoFactor’s new web-based user interface has a much cleaner look.
Included in the new features are individualized month-by-month energy savings reports. EcoFactor’s patented data analytics engine quantifies savings in specific detail for each individual home, for each month. Now users can see how much they’ve saved with EcoFactor at any time by logging into the new interface.
Clean Interface, More Info
I like the clean look of the interface, though I have to wonder if homeowners like the set-it-and-forget-it technology, will they ever use it?
Even the complicated graph showing “Heating and Cooling System Run Times,” with indoor and outdoor temps graphed against bars showing the run times, is fairly easy to understand. The best part may be the grayed bars showing run times of other homes in the area, presumably also served by EcoFactor’s SaaS (software as a service).
Showing homeowners how they compare in their energy usage is powerful, as demonstrated by the success of Opower, which works with electric utilities to mail statements showing a home’s energy use and how it compares to others like it.
There’s been a debate as to whether these social comparisons through companies like Opower or set-it-and-forget it automation through innovations like EcoFactor is the answer to helping us save energy in our homes—but I think we will see both means used toward that end—and that is what those faint gray bars in the Heating and Cooling System Run Times graph shows. My suggestion: make the bars just a bit darker.
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