Going green

Just a couple of weeks ago I have enrolled in a SmartAC program offered by my local utility company – PG&E. What this program is about? It’s about saving energy.

This Saturday morning I had a couple of PG&E guys at my place retrofitting my old (but still pretty decent) 4-wire Lux TX1500E thermostat to a new, 5-wire, Honeywell UtilityPRO.

UtilityPRO thermostat
UtilityPRO thermostat

The UtilityPRO is a new breed, one of a kind 5/2 day (5 weekdays + 2 weekend schedules) touch-screen thermostat that could receive wireless updates from the utility company. It allows them to send short messages (like SMS or twitts) directly to your thermostat informing of your current power consumption, showing exactly how big of a bill you will get at the end of the month. They can also show you comparison to the previous year’s usage.

But the most important feature is that they can remotely change the mode of operation of your thermostat when the power is in big demand. Like in the summer months when it’s getting hot outside and everyone runs their ACs to the fullest, which creates huge stress on the utilities followed by power outages, brownouts, etc. Sounds a bit scary at first, isn’t it? In a Hitchcock kind of way. Someone from somewhere taking over your thermostat. But according to the reviews most people do not even notice when Energy Saving mode is activated by the utility. And if you do notice and it feels uncomfortable you have an option to opt out from the program for a day. Or leave the SmartAC program altogether. No hard feelings, thanks for trying.

As a bonus, utility gives you remote access to your thermostat, so you can also control your thermostat from the Internet. This could be great for the times when you return from a long trip or vacation and want your home to greet you with a nice breeze in the summer or a cozy warmth in the winter, without the cost of running HVAC when there’s no one home.

So far my new thermostat has been working fine. It’s very easy to use and it has a nice big screen with a green back-lighting (incidental?). I’ve spent maybe 5-10 minutes programming the weekly schedule and after that it’s been “Following Schedule” with occasional manual overrides from my side.

I still have to figure out a way to integrate UtilityPRO into my Insteon home automation system. If anyone has any experience with this set up please share in the comments below.

UtilityPRO message
UtilityPRO message
About Ruslan Ulanov 103 Articles
Ruslan Ulanov is a software engineer by day and Smart Home hacker by night. He got fascinated by potential of home automation over a decade ago, when it was available to select few. Over the years experimented with smart products using different technologies from X10 to Insteon to ZigBee. Actively supports new smart home developments on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

3 Comments on Going green

  1. It’s been about 3 weeks since I had Utility Pro installed at my house. What can I tell about it so far.

    As a thermostat, it does a pretty decent job of keeping me and my family cozy throughout the day and night. I like that it allows a more precise temperature to be set when switched to Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. In a Celsius grade it provides half a degree steps (ex. 19.5C). It comes in very handy, as before I always had a problem with the temperature differences between up and down levels of the house. The upstairs heats up faster and soon gets uncomfortable if you try to stay warm downstairs. The separate AC zones would’ve fix this issue more efficiently, but for now this half a degree setting makes all the difference.

    BTW, the PG&E guys were strongly suggesting me to make up my mind on which scale (C or F) I’d like to use during installation, as this setting was not re-programmable by the end-used. Little they knew that they were dealing with a software engineer. I found quite a few advanced settings that could be tweaked in the thermostat if you know how to get to them.

    As for the advanced features… The Internet access works… sort of. I mean you can login to the web site, play around with the graphical representation of the thermostat, save the presets, etc. But so far I was unsuccessful in setting the temperature remotely.

    Another feature that I was really looking forward to use was the real time and historical power consumption reports. So far the Usage button – the rightmost button on the bottom of the UI (see the image above) is not showing up. So I can not access this really useful information. I don’t know if it needs time to accumulate the data or anything else. Let’s give it a month and see what will happen then.

    Also, I didn’t receive any SMS-style messages from PG&E on the thermostat screen as of yet. But what I did receive, was a $25 rebate check in the mail for participation in SmartAC program.

  2. Dave, so far I didn't have any problems using the thermostat. Nor did I had it working in power saving mode (or at least I didn't notice that it was).

    Since my initial (failed) attempt I didn't try to use its Internet capabilities, though I think I should.

    Let me know what's your experience with this thing.

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