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Nest Thermostat, Data Driven for Your Pleasure and Green Health

As Deano and others might say Baby, It’s Cold Outside. And, heating costs are no joke. Neither is about $250 for a thermostat. Nonetheless, data and networks are changing the way we manage heating. As Wired reports, Tony Faddell, founder of Nest Labs makes this compelling point:

Untold tons of carbon were being pumped into the air, with people losing billions of dollars in energy costs, all because there was no easy, automatic way to control the temperature. But what if you could apply all the skills and brilliance of Silicon Valley to produce a thermostat that was smart, thrifty and so delightful that saving energy was as much fun as shuffling an iTunes playlist?

So far, you may be thinking that programmable thermostats are old hat. They are and may not have worked as well as hoped given that the Times reports “Two years ago, the federal government eliminated the entire programmable thermostat category from its Energy Star program.” Yet, there is something different here. Improved, networked climate control is not your father’s Oldsmobile. It sounds crazy, but the pre-orders sold out and demand is high. Others are in the game as well. Some require more tech savvy to install. Regardless the idea is that data and networks will allow one to manage energy costs well.

The Nest seems to be the leader for easy use and install. The Times explains that the design is great but then the iPod designer would have to do that, right? The best part for me is that the Nest uses Wi-Fi which means software updates, programming from the Web or an App, and it learns.

Learns? Yes, learns. The system tells users how much time it will take to raise a house’s temperature (which stops the habit of cranking heat to get to a lower temperature), notes manual adjustments for home, midday, away, etc. to start to offer an automatic cycle attuned to habits. Motion sensors help set basic overrides for heating and cooling to take care times when no one is home. In a nod to behaviorial economics and some things that I think Ryan Calo has been considering, the Times explains that “Nest says that turning down your thermostat by even a single degree can save you 5 percent in energy. To that end, it offers a little motivational logo: a green leaf. It glows brighter as you turn the ring beyond your standard comfort zone. As a positive-reinforcement technique, it’s a lot more effective than an exhortation from Jimmy Carter to put on a sweater.”

I always feel a little sad when reminded of President Carter’s attempt to address the energy crisis of the 1970s. It seems to flow from a view of WWII America when people buckled down for the greater good, but that had perhaps faded years before his plea. Still, if we have learned that other approaches can aid better judgment and action, maybe we will turn those thermostats to 68 and wear that sweater as the then President asked us to do.