Alliant sees customer thermostats as a tool to balance the network | Science & Environment

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Alliant Energy asks its customers to help it maintain the balance of the electricity grid.

The Madison-based utility is rolling out a suite of programs to offer cash rewards in exchange for occasionally giving up control of thermostats and water heaters.

As part of a new program, customers with Internet-connected thermostats can receive $25 per year to allow the utility to adjust the temperature in their homes by a few degrees up to 20 times a year, usually on hot summer afternoons when electricity consumption peaks.

Alliant aims to recruit up to 7,000 households over the next two years, which the company says could provide up to 5 megawatts of capacity that can be used in place of generators.

The utility says it can also use it to manage gas flows during the winter months when the utilities’ growing reliance on gas to generate electricity competes with the needs of domestic heating.

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“Smart thermostats give customers more control over their energy use and make it easier than ever to lower their energy bills,” said Kari Gehrke, demand side management manager at Alliant. “Our Smart Hours program allows customers to customize their temperature preferences and increase the flexibility of their heating and cooling systems.”

Customers can opt out of individual events (by simply readjusting their thermostats), but they can only do so three times a year and still receive the $25 incentive.

Those without qualifying thermostats can get a $50 rebate through the state’s energy efficiency program. According to Alliant, installing a smart or programmable thermostat can reduce energy bills by about 10%.

The company has developed a similar program for internet-connected electric water heaters and is testing the concept with a pair of refrigerated warehouses.

In total, Alliant expects the Smart Hours program to cost taxpayers about $1.4 million per year, including incentives and administrative costs.

These demand-side management programs can offset the need for additional generation, storage, and distribution equipment, reducing overall costs and avoiding pollution produced by burning fossil fuels.

A 2020 report by M-WERC, a nonprofit group focused on economic development for Wisconsin’s energy, electrical, and controls sector, identified thermostat control programs as one of the most cost-effective ways for utilities to reduce emissions while creating jobs.

Other utilities, including Madison Gas and Electric and Xcel Energy, offer similar thermostat programs, though Alliant is the first to use it to manage gas usage.

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