Device automatically adjusts to conserve energy; more than 8,000 customers have enrolled so far

Portland General Electric is promoting its Tandem Home Program, enabling customers with ducted heat pumps or central air conditioners to sign up to have their thermostat automatically adjusted to conserve energy. More than 8,000 customers have enrolled so far.

"Smart" home appliances are gaining popularity, such as refrigerators with a camera inside so homeowners can see what they need to buy at the grocery store through a smartphone app, or a washing machine that sends notifications when clothes are done washing.

There are now numerous smart devices around homes that can be connected to phones and controlled remotely. But what if we aren't the ones controlling the device?

PGE's program allows using less energy while still maintaining a home's comfort.

"The program works with your home's thermostat to adjust settings to reduce energy use during high-demand events, such as the hottest summer afternoons or coldest winter mornings," PGE spokesman Steve Corson said.

During times when people are using the most energy, PGE will adjust the thermostat to help lower the demand. According to the utility, most people don't notice any difference.

Customers must have a thermostat made by Nest, Ecobee or Honeywell that is connected to the home's wi-fi system to use the program. According to PGE, data collected from the thermostat is combined with local weather data. Then an energy model of the home is created to give an understanding of how it responds to weather conditions.

PGE will schedule times for the adjustments, based on expected demand, four to 24 hours ahead of time.

Those who enroll in the program will get $25 for conserving energy, and earn $25 at the end of the summer season if they participate in the program at least 50 percent of the time. Customers with a ducted heat pump can also earn $25 more per year for participating in the winter. The Energy Trust of Oregon also offers a $50 incentive to subsidize the purchase and installation of a qualifying thermostat, Corson says.

The temperature can still be adjusted at home, so PGE doesn't have total control. Those who prefer a warmer home at night or cooler during the day ultimately have the power to adjust their home's temperature as they please.

"A customer with a smart thermostat with an occupancy sensor can expect to save between 4 to 15 percent on energy use-related heating, cooling, and ventilation, depending on their system and their specific home's characteristics," Corson said. "These savings come primarily from the smart thermostat's learning functions and occupancy sensors, which promote more efficient use of the energy needed to cool or warm your home."

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