I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I’m actually rooting for Comcast.
Yes, the behemoth cable company. The Evil Empire. Max Headroom’s Zik-Zak Corporation. Xfinity.
Call it what you will. I now call the country’s largest cable company, devourer of NBCUniversal and sometimes all that is good and pure in the world—as smart.
Very smart. Even cloud-based smart.
And why? It’s all because of a thermostat. Not really a thermostat, though. It’s cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) that will be used by Comcast’s Xfinity Home system (formerly Xfinity Home Security) to automatically adjust the temperature in a home and save people—we hope—real money.
This week Comcast and EcoFactor announced a partnership for EcoFactor to provide the cloud-based brains for Comcast’s Xfinity Home’s wireless communicating thermostats, which the company is rolling out as security/connectivity/home automation services in several markets to compete with similar offerings from ADT, Verizon, Vivint, Alarm.com and others.
So what’s the big deal? The EcoFactor software could give Comcast a huge leg up in the energy management portion of these mass-market affordable automation/remote connectivity services. That’s because EcoFactor’s software is about the closest thing to true set-it-and-forget it energy management in the home, which many experts and myself believe is essential to making energy management a popular home feature.
EcoFactor essentially uses a communicating thermostat as a sensor. The thermostat can report to EcoFactor’s servers how fast a home heats or cools or loses that heating and cooling, thereby getting a read of how well the home’s heating and cooling systems and thermal envelope (insulation and air sealing) perform. It combines this info with local weather and many other data points to make micro-adjustments to the home’s thermostat—turning temps up and down just a tad—to retain comfort while operating the heating and cooling systems more efficiently.
EcoFactor calls this picking up nickels, and the idea is to pick up a lot of them, so by the end of a month or year you’ve saved some significant change.
Will it work? That’s what I’m rooting for. EcoFactor says tests have shown energy savings of 17 percent, which is pretty darned good.
Comcast isn’t providing any timetable for this service to start, but I’d expect it will be offered as an option, with a pricing premium. In utility pilots and deployments, The EcoFactor service is free for several months and then the company charges a $8.99/month subscription. Comcast also announced four new features to its Xfinity Home service: an indoor/outdoor camera with night vision, a carbon monoxide sensor, water/flood sensor for a basement or wash room and some in-wall lighting switches that can be remotely controlled with the Xfinity Home app. The company also recently introduced a streaming media service.
Comcast isn’t the only big service provider rolling out thermostat innovations. Earlier this week Alarm.com announced its Smart Schedule Activity Patterns that give visual cues of when heating and cooling systems may be running unnecessarily, so users can quickly change set points to save energy. That service also looks like it will become more automated over time.
I’m looking for more of the same from ADT, Verizon, Vivint and others getting into this space. Thermostats may be mundane, but they’re the key to saving money with energy management, as heating and cooling are a home’s biggest energy users. Together they consume more than 50 percent of a home’s energy. It’s one of the easiest places to save some ching on your energy bill.
Communicating, smart and automated thermostats are the step ladders to that low-hanging fruit in homes and business—and the big service providers are taking notice. Now I can’t help but root that one of the biggest, brashest and sometimes most heartless corporations in the world has some success with it.
Until something even better comes along.
End note: Comcast also needs to expend its Xfinity Home service. It was introduced in Houston in June 2010 and has now rolled out into additional markets including Greater Philadelphia, Portland, Chattanooga, Nashville, Jacksonville, Sarasota/Naples, Knoxville, parts of New Jersey, Indianapolis, the Twin Cities, Denver, Colorado Springs, and parts of Delaware and Seattle.
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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