CHICAGO (AP) — The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made an impassioned push Thursday for homeowners to adopt Wi-Fi-enabled “smart thermostats” as a way to limit carbon pollution and improve public health.
Besides noting the devices save consumers money, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy cast the technology in grander terms, saying it offered an easy way for people to “stand up” and meet “our moral responsibility” to do something about the smog that leads to climate change, premature deaths and asthma attacks.
“Even if you don’t care about the climate or believe the science — which we can argue about later — do it anyways. Just humor me,” she said to laughter and applause at an appearance in Chicago. “You know why? Because you’re going to save money. ... But let’s not forget that behind that saving money are thousands of lives.”
McCarthy spoke at an event launching the nation’s largest incentives program to encourage the use of the technology. Under the program, utility companies in northern Illinois have joined together to offer homeowners rebates of up to $120, about half the cost of the devices, which allow users to control cooling and heating programs from their smartphones, tablets and computers.
The goal is to get 1 million of the thermostats installed in northern Illinois homes within the next five years. The rebate applies specifically to Nest and ecobee thermostats. Companies including Honeywell also make Wi-Fi-equipped thermostats.
It is considered smart technology because besides being linked to wireless Internet service, the thermostats “learn” costumer behavior and adjust settings accordingly. Motion sensors detect when someone is home and automatically dial back heating and AC usage when no one is home.
Most people already have traditional programmable thermostats. But studies have shown only about half of users actually program them because of poor design and complicated settings. Commonwealth Edison, the electric utility for Chicago and northern Illinois, found in a study that its customers were wasting about 38 percent of their cooling expense as a result.
The new generation of smart thermostats that have emerged in the past few years offer a simplified interface via apps for smartphones and other mobile devices. They also compile a trove of data and present it back to customers in a monthly report with suggestions on how to save more.
If the Illinois program reaches its installation goal, it could capture $80 million to $120 million in customer savings and eliminate 700,000 metric tons of carbon pollution a year, said Howard Learner, director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which pushed for the program.
The average user can save about $130 a year on bills, Learner said. Combined with the rebate, that means the device could pay for itself in as little as a year.