Excitement in Colorado: 22,000 households could not adjust their networked thermostats for an hour on Tuesday. Their electric utility, Xcel, had taken control remotely to avoid a grid collapse. A power plant had failed and the current heat wave required high power consumption for air conditioning systems. Braking this was the order of the day.
Denver7 television broadcast the complaint of a victim who wanted to turn down the thermostat in his girlfriend’s apartment but couldn’t because it was locked due to the power emergency. The setting stayed at 26 degrees. The complainant’s girlfriend voluntarily participates in a program designed specifically to reduce electricity demand by remotely controlling her thermostat in energy emergencies. Participants receive a $100 entry bonus and a $25 annual bonus.
No power no emergency?
In return, the electricity supplier is given the right to intervene in the thermostat settings during peak load times. The program has been running for six years. As a rule, the participants can change the specifications again immediately. But in special situations, the electricity supplier can prevent this. On Tuesday, for the first time since the program began six years ago, it became necessary for an hour.
Dozens of participants criticized the intervention in social networks. The man, who was allowed to spread his displeasure on Denver7, does not want to see an energy emergency in an impending power outage: “For me, an emergency is something where life, physical health or another danger, such as massive forest fires, is at stake,” quotes the TV Sender the man, “Even if it only happens once in a blue moon, we’re still pissed that we can’t adjust the thermostat in our house.”
Two German nuclear power plants continue to run for the time being
In Germany, the problem of excessive electricity loads is more likely to arise in the coming winter than in the summer. Economics Minister Robert Habeck no longer expects any Russian gas from the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. They are to be kept ready until April 2023 in order to stabilize the network if necessary.
Whether programmable thermostats can reduce energy consumption for heating is controversial. The EU believes in this and wants to see 1.5 million smart thermostats installed by the end of this year to reduce dependence on Russian gas. c’t editor Sven Hansen finds this suggestion not only nonsensical, but absolutely counterproductive. A lack of energy cannot be combated with digital thermostats, says Hansen.
Beware of blackmail and boomerang effect
A representative survey by the market research institute Forsa on behalf of the TÜV association last year showed why smart heating systems are not in demand in this country: Above all, there are concerns about the IT security of networked devices. Years ago, hackers demonstrated how to take control of a networked thermostat. On a large scale, criminals could use it not just to rip off homeowners, but to blackmail an entire power grid.
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A scientific study revealed another snag this year: Programmed thermostats are becoming a heavy burden on the power grid. Because even if the advertising promises it, they are anything but smart. The programming means that a large number of heaters start up at the same time in the morning. The more heaters are electrified and equipped with programmable thermostats for environmental reasons, the greater the morning peak load in the power grid.
With the increasing spread of programmable thermostats on e-heaters and air conditioning systems, the pressure on electricity producers and network operators to do something about expensive and sometimes dangerous peak loads increases: the suppliers will increasingly want to and may even have to use remote control. It is undisputed that thermostats networked in this way are suitable for short-term reduction of peak loads. Because of this, Xcel pays rewards to volunteer program participants in Colorado.
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