The Rise of Programmable Thermostats: Nest, Honeywell and More
By. Dave Fidlin
With each passing year, the ever-evolving use of smart-based technology is rising and changing how we conduct our lives. The growth of the programmable thermostat market in recent years has begun resonating with consumers as people consider energy-efficient, cost-conscious alternatives to the traditional methods we’ve long used.
A number of consumer product companies have been manufacturing programmable thermostats, including such heavy-hitters as Honeywell and Nest. Unlike a traditional thermostat, which requires users to make adjustments manually, a programmable thermostat can make its own adjustments throughout the day. More advanced models can even be altered by a user remotely through devices such as smartphones.
Depending upon the specific model, programmable thermostats can have a number of features, such as embedded sensors that
help determine the occupancy of a room. Other bells and whistles include algorithms that can calculate how much you should adjust your temperature, Wi-Fi capability that allows you to make adjustments and obtain feedback remotely, and voice-controlled prompts that have users’ ease and convenience in mind.
According to Navigant Research, a consulting firm specializing in emerging technologies, the number of users adopting programmable thermostats is expected to rise from an estimated 1.4 million people in 2013 to a whopping 31.9 million people by 2020.
Up until recently, Bob Lockhart, Navigant’s research director, said programmable thermostats were used primarily in the commercial setting. But in a news release announcing Navigant’s research analysis, Lockhart stated, “The combined factors of increased energy awareness, interest in home automation and security tools and more user-friendly solutions have led to an uptick in shipments for residential smart thermostats … and have revived a sense of optimism and excitement among vendors and stakeholders.”
Navigant’s projection clearly points to a sizable increase in the number of consumers who are willing to fork over their dollars upfront for a possible long-term savings. However, it is worth noting the 31.9 million-user figure represents only about 4.7 percent of all energy consumers across the globe.
While programmable thermostats are still considered a product-in-development, many experts back the assertions made by Navigant’s research team. Consider the rise of smartphones in the past half-decade. They have grown progressively from a novelty to a product that has gained widespread use. As more people integrate their smartphones further into their everyday lives, expectations for other types of intuitive products — including programmable thermostats — will likely follow suit.
Another analytics company, ABI Research, weighed in on the smart thermostat market with its own position paper, released in late 2013. ABI’s team suggested a 43-percent increase in sales during a 5-year period, ending in 2018. “Disruptive innovation in thermostats … has significantly raised the bar for product design and innovation in a device category that had seen little change over several decades,” ABI researchers wrote in the report.
By ABI’s estimation, the sale of programmable thermostats will reach $600 million in sales by 2018. Users in North American countries have dominated the market in recent years, but the growth of the technology elsewhere — particularly in Europe — has been cited as a reason behind the upward trajectory in the years ahead.
Honeywell, a veteran in the thermostat industry, is one of many companies that have been aggressively pushing their line of programmable devices. According to its website, Honeywell offers products that can be set in different intervals, oftentimes in a 7-day span of time. Some of Honeywell’s high-tech thermostats are voice operated, while others are described as having easy-to-read and understandable information displayed on the screen.
In May 2014, Emerson Climate Technologies decided to enter the programmable thermostat arena through its White-Rodgers brand. Emerson is marketing its product as the Sensi Wi-Fi Thermostat.
“With the remarkable popularity of smartphones as controllers, and the growing availability of Wi-Fi in homes, Emerson saw an important opportunity to make this technology widely available and affordable for consumers,” Ed Purvis, Emerson’s executive vice president, said in a statement announcing the new product line.
In the company’s statement, Purvis readily recognized there are other programmable thermostats on the market. But he cited Emerson’s rich history in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) market as a point that sets the Sensi product apart from the pack. Emerson’s product, according to Purvis, is equipped in such a way that users frequently can use all of their existing wiring to use the Sensi.
As with traditional thermostats, there are a wide variation of programmable models on the market. One of the most recognizable companies pushing this new smart technology is Nest. A group of computer programmers with resumes that included stints at such high profile companies as Apple developed the Nest software.
According to the company, Nest’s programmable thermostats are highly intuitive and have the ability to learn the owner’s behavior during the first few weeks of usage. As time progresses, Nest’s thermostats are supposed to adjust on their own without much human involvement.
In its company literature, Nest claims users can skim 20 percent off the top of their heating and cooling bills. This can be accomplished, according to the company, because Nest’s software takes the guesswork and human error out of programming a thermostat. The feature reduces the likelihood of energy consumption being wasted in the long run.
While Nest and other leaders in the programmable thermostat market make bold assertions about the money that can be saved long term through a one-time investment, consumers should still do their homework.
On his blog site, Get Rich Slowly, author J.D. Roth issued words of caution to consumers interested in upgrading their thermostats to the latest technology.
“The main problem is that people don’t use programmable thermostats the way they’re intended,” Roth wrote on his site. “Someone might keep the home cool during the day, for instance, but crank the heat above room temperature at night.”
Regardless of the technology, Roth asserted common sense rules in the consumer quest to save money: “Whether you use a programmable thermostat or not, if you turn down the heat, or turn off the air conditioning, when you don’t need it, you’ll save money.”
The bottom line: Smart technology does not give us humans the license to be idiotic.
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