The Wiser Air thermostat from Schneider Electric just keeps getting smarter.
Schneider Electric has added technology called EcoIQ that enables Wiser Air (North America) to learn what temperatures a homeowner or family like various areas of their home to be set at – without having to program the device.
To learn how it works, I talked with one of the engineers who conceived of the idea, Paul Buda, an Engineer/Fellow with Schneider Electric. In essence, EcoIQ enables Wiser Air to make a temperature comfort map as users go through their day. Say a user comes home from work at 6 p.m. on a Monday and pushes a button on the thermostat to raise the temperature. EcoIQ will note the change, fix the temperature immediately and, the next day, will plan with the new temperature at that time – no need for the user to do anything more..
Customers can still program Wiser Air with their regular schedule if they like, but multiple studies (including this one from researchers at Fraunhofer USA) show most customers simply don’t bother. With EcoIQ, they don’t need to. Over time, the device develops a highly accurate schedule, using what Buda calls red states and blue states on a comfort map (neither of which has anything to do with politics). “For each temperature, we simply mark it as either warm or cool. If you’re in a red state you’re likely to be warm and vice versa,” he says. “An intelligent algorithm looks at that map daily and sets appropriate temperatures for you.”
It takes only a couple of days of use for EcoIQ to create a good baseline map. Once it has that map, here’s where things get really interesting. Say that, based on button presses and the comfort map, EcoIQ sets the temperature at 69 degrees while people are at home during winter. If no-one “objects” to 69 degrees (by pushing a button to raise the temperature), on its own EcoIQ will try setting it a bit lower, say 68 degrees. Again, if nobody pushes a button to object, 68 will become the new normal. Over time, the device may try for 67, or 67.5 – and just keep going until someone does object.
The savings can be significant. “For each degree you reduce the temperature, the Department of Energy says you save about 3% per day on your heating bill,” Buda says, noting the results are similar for air conditioning use. Wiser Air also comes with tools that enable customers to see what kinds of savings they’re getting over time.
For utilities, EcoIQ can be a powerful way to get customers to reduce energy use. Unlike some competing thermostats, Buda notes, it requires no input from customers to save energy. “It just makes changes and sees what sticks,” he says. EcoIQ is also careful not to make changes too frequently, such that customers get annoyed. That’s the result of usability studies that show users are OK with adjusting the temperature just two or three times per week, which is about how it works out in practice with Wiser Air.
The fact that Wiser Air can also take advantage of the Schneider Electric weather forecasting service provides additional benefits. Say a customer in Boston likes the temperature to be 68 degrees at 6:30 a.m. when family members start waking up. If the temperature outside is 50 degrees, maybe the heat has to come on at 5:30 to reach 68 in time. But if it’s 20 degrees outside, the heat may have to get cranking at 4:30. Thanks to EcoIQ and the weather service integration, Wiser Air is smart enough to make that determination and act accordingly.
Another benefit of EcoIQ is that Wiser Air doesn’t have to rely on occupancy sensors to determine whether people are home. One problem with occupancy sensors is they can cause the heat or air conditioning to kick in simply because someone walks into a room, even if they don’t stay there. Say you walk into the dining room of your home to grab a plate, but then leave right away. You don’t want the heat to crank up in that scenario, but that’s exactly what will happen with an occupancy sensor.
“On the other hand, if I’m having Sunday dinner I can just push a button on the thermostat,” Buda says.
EcoIQ could be a game-changing technology, something that gets customers to act in their best interest – without consciously doing anything at all. It’s a win for customers – and for the utilities that serve them.
Learn more at the Wiser Air home page.
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