Thousands of Colorado residents were locked out of their smart thermostats during blistering temperatures last week in an effort to prevent power demand from overwhelming the electrical grid.
About 22,000 Xcel customers lost control of their smart thermostats for hours on August 30. Denver7 News reports. That sparked backlash on social media, as some people said temperatures in their homes were as high as 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Outside temperatures climbed into the 1990s in parts of Colorado that day, as much of the western US struggled with blistering heat.
All affected customers had enrolled in an energy-saving program, called AC Rewards, which is intended to relieve pressure on the power grid during heat waves. Xcel can adjust those customers’ smart thermostats when demand gets so high that there may not be enough supply to meet it. Xcel offers a one-time credit of $100 on electricity bills upon sign-up and $25 per year thereafter for participation.
When the utility modifies a customer’s thermostat, the customer usually has the option to opt out. But, “In rare cases, system emergencies can cause a control event that cannot be lifted,” the company says on its website.
Last week marked the first time Xcel has banned customers from ignoring their customizations in the six years since the program began, according to Denver7. High temperatures, rising demand for power for air conditioners and an unexpected outage all contributed to last week’s power shortage, Xcel vice president Emmett Romine said. Denver7. Xcel did not immediately respond to a press request from The edge.
Extreme heat is putting pressure on power grids across much of the western US during a prolonged heat wave that started last week and is expected to continue well into this week. California grid operator has urged residents to save energy the next few days to avoid blackouts.
Americans are facing increasing power outages compared to the past, partly due to more extreme weather. 2020 was a record year for power outages in the US. Punishing the summer heat in Texas last year provoked a similar reaction from residents as utility companies set customers’ smart thermostats to higher temperatures to limit power demand.
Such programs are part of a strategy called question answer that should help power grids become more resilient to extreme weather events that become more frequent and severe as global temperatures rise. Energy suppliers always maintain a precarious balance between supply and demand, which can quickly lead to power outages when demand peaks. Demand response can smooth out those spikes that typically peak when heat waves drive up the demand for electricity for air conditioning. So while some customers may see their thermostats set to higher temperatures than they anticipated, that should help keep the power going for their households and their neighbors.
However, there is a risk with that strategy as smart thermostats keep homes at dangerously high temperatures. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures — especially at night when people sleep at home — can lead to heat-related illness and even death. heat spells kill more people in the US than any other weather-related disaster.