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How do smart thermostats help prevent blackouts?

How your smart thermostat can help prevent California blackouts and even earn you rewards this Summer

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Katie Overmonds
June 9, 2021

Hot Summer days are on their way which means, for many families, it’s time to turn on the cool breeze of an air conditioner. Ahhhh - bliss!

The trouble with summer and air conditioning though, is that everyone on your street or in your apartment building has the same idea as you: They want to be cool, and they’re looking for that relief at exactly the same time. Makes sense, right?

With millions of air conditioners turning on at the same instance it means too much strain on your local power grid, and in extreme cases, the chance that a rolling blackout could happen.

Air conditioners draw an enormous current when running (500 to 2,400 watts per room unit). Plus, they cycle on and off, causing large, sudden electricity demand spikes. The more we can cut down on, or orchestrate California’s collective A/C usage, the better.

The solution to preventing blackouts is a few clicks away

But there’s a solution to preventing blackouts and if you can believe it, it’s actually kind of … fun?

You may think of your thermostat as simply something your Dad told you never to touch or part of your home’s inner workings that never gets a second thought but it’s actually the key to helping prevent blackouts in California and taking a significant chunk of change off your monthly energy bill.

By installing a smart thermostat and connecting it to a program called OhmConnect, you can be a part of the solution and earn fun rewards at the same time.

What are we talking about?

OhmConnect is a free service provided to residential customers of Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric. OhmConnect pays customers to use less power during times of peak demand; sells the collective energy savings back to the grid; and then passes their earnings onto their users in the form of cash and prizes.

When you sign up for OhmConnect, you’ll be sent alerts about when these times of peak demand (called OhmHours) are expected by the power company. Rather than being set to kick on at your usual time, your smart thermostat will automatically modify your cooling schedule to work around this timeframe and help prevent a blackout.

By connecting your smart thermostat to OhmConnect, your home’s temperature is automatically tweaked slightly when an OhmHour comes your way.  Without selling, or even sharing, your data with any parties besides with those like your utility that already have it, OhmConnect optimizes your home’s energy consumption alongside your neighbors to prevent blackouts and save you money on your bills. If for any reason participation isn’t convenient on a particular day, you can always opt out.

"OhmConnect's customers' efforts helped to prevent blackouts during the recent heat waves," said Michael Colvin, Director Regulatory and Legislative Affairs, California Energy Program, Environmental Defense Fund. "These customers responded at unprecedented levels and their actions prevented the August 2020 blackouts from being longer and more severe."

In fact, if every California home had joined OhmConnect with a connected smart thermostat, we could have entirely avoided California’s rolling blackouts last August.

Earn rewards for saving energy

According to a recent study by UCLA's Luskin Center for Innovation, participating in OhmConnect measurably reduced grid stress and earned users more than  *$1 million* in rewards. These rewards were in addition to the money users saved on their utility bills by consuming less energy during peak hours.

thermostat on the wall and a phone held in a hand showing how to earn rewards with smart thermostats

What’s more -- independent studies showed that Nest thermostats saved people an average of 10% to 12% on heating and 15% on cooling. Based on typical energy costs, Google estimated average savings of $131 to $145 a year.

"40% of OhmConnect customers are low-to-moderate income families, and our partnership with Google will allow us to provide Nest thermostats in the homes of hundreds of thousands of Californians," said Cisco DeVries, CEO, OhmConnect. "Last summer, OhmConnect customers played a critical role in reducing blackouts by saving energy, and by arming more families with smart thermostats, we hope to see this impact grow exponentially in the coming weeks."

New to OhmConnect? Visit to get your FREE smart thermostat and join the hundreds of thousands of Californians working together to prevent blackouts this Summer and getting rewarded at the same time.  

Google and Nest Thermostat are trademarks of Google LLC.

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