Currently in Texas, residents across the state are experiencing a heat wave. As a result, they are turning down their thermostats in an effort to stave off the rising temperatures. In response to the heat wave, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, urged citizens to raise the temperature on their thermostats to help ease the strain on the power grid. While this was a request from the power company for many residents, others quickly realized over the last week that it was mandatory — and they had no choice in the matter.
Houston residents were shocked last week after finding their homes warmer than they wanted them to be — even when running their air conditioners. Many of the residents theorized that their thermostats were being controlled remotely, and as it turns out, they were right.
Several years back, a company called EnergyHub began enrolling homeowners in a program called “Smart Savers Texas.” The program lured in families by offering them an entry into a sweepstakes and in exchange for that entry, residents signed over permission to EnergyHub to be able to control their thermostats during high energy demand.
Erika Diamond, vice president of customer solutions at EnergyHub told Gizmodo that during energy saving events, the program “increases the temperature on participating thermostats by up to four degrees to reduce energy consumption and relieve stress on the grid.”
Smart Savers Texas helps support grid reliability by working with thermostat manufacturer and security dealer partners to sign up connected thermostat owners to participate in reducing energy use when the grid needs it most.
Thermostat owners typically receive an offer to participate from their manufacturer or service provider within their mobile app or via email. During a demand response event, Smart Savers Texas increases the temperature on participating thermostats by up to four degrees to reduce energy consumption and relieve stress on the grid. Every participant actively agrees to the terms of the program and can opt-out of a demand response event at any time.
WFAA interviewed a family who was affected by this program who, like many others, were upset that the power company was controlling their comfort levels.
Brandon English said the rising thermostat temperatures began last Wednesday. When he walked into his family’s home after work, his house was hot.
“(My wife) had it cranked it down at 2:30,” English said. “It takes a long time for this house to get cool when it gets that hot.”
English told WFAA that his wife and daughters took an afternoon nap that was quickly interrupted by rising temperatures.
“They’d been asleep long enough that the house had already gotten to 78 degrees,” English said. “So they woke up sweating.”
English explained that even though they turned down the thermostat before lying down for the nap, the power company turned it back up as they slept. A creepy notion indeed.
“Was my daughter at the point of overheating?” English said. “She’s 3 months old. They dehydrate very quickly.”
The English family has since opted out of the “service.”
Though they opted out, others say they have had no choice. The man in the video showed that he was not able to change his thermostat at all.
@cactusshark888Reply to @rainman7719 Ercot sucks ##ercot ##Texas ##28XTREMES♬ original sound – CactusShark
This news comes after the epic failure of the state’s power grid in February as millions were left without power. On top of the failure, the idea of power companies remotely controlling things inside our homes raises multiple safety and privacy concerns.
We’ve seen big beef and big oil both suffer major hacking attacks this year already which has caused turmoil in the market and shaken up the entire economy. A similar hack on the power grid could hold millions of homes hostage in a ransomware attack or simply create mass suffering and even death with a regular cyber attack.
This is the problem with “smart” technology. While much of it is designed to make our lives easier and better, the potential for utterly catastrophic results loom on the horizon.