Navigant Research Blog

Gripped by Heat, New Yorkers Stay Cool with a New Energy Efficiency Program

Marianne Hedin — June 27, 2012

The heat wave that is gripping the Mountain West and the Great Plains is expected to move east this week, bringing sweltering temperatures to the East Coast, including New York City.  That means all those window unit air conditioners in Manhattan will be working overtime – and consuming huge amounts of energy.

But with an energy usage program introduced last year by Con Edison in partnership with ThinkEco, called the coolNYC program, Manhattan residents are more easily and automatically able to control the energy use of their window ACs.  They will be able to do so by using ThinkEco’s smartAC kit, consisting of a modlet (an intelligent device that monitors the energy usage of appliances and can automatically control their settings) that plugs into an existing outlet and a smartAC thermostat.  The smart thermostat can automatically turn the AC unit on and off, based on the resident’s desired temperature settings, by sending a signal to the modlet.  The modlet, meanwhile, communicates wirelessly through ZigBee technology with the resident’s home computer so that energy usage can be tracked and monitored by the user remotely and in real-time.  The modlet has an internal memory and can store up to 10 days’ worth of energy use data.

Residents can purchase this smartAC kit at various Best Buy stores throughout the city for $69.99 and receive a $25 rebate upon setting up their smartAC account.  Every summer thereafter they receive an additional $25 in the form of an e-gift card if they continue to participate in the program.  (Because each modlet and smartAC thermostat works as a pair, users need these devices for each air conditioner.)

Besides being able to view their current room temperature, change the temperature for the room, or simply turn the window AC on/off from any smartphone or browser, users can preset on/off schedules for their unit through any web browser, so that their room is cooled only when needed.  In this way, the AC becomes a smart, networked device enabling residents to manage their energy usage, while at the same time saving money.

The coolNYC program is not only benefitting New York City residents, but it also allows Con Edison to execute its demand response programs by reducing electricity during peak times when the reliability of the grid is threatened.  With over six million window ACs in the utility’s service territory – many of which operate when residents are not home – it is important that Con Edison has the ability to manage peak demand by adjusting AC temperatures remotely and automatically – especially if New York is hit by another record heat wave like last summer.

Program participants will be notified a day ahead of any DR event, giving them an opportunity to opt in or out each time.  Con Edison expects, however, that such “emergency” events will not occur more than a few times each summer, and the utility adjusts the thermostat only to a slightly higher temperature, it says.

Con Edison and ThinkEco aim to achieve smart AC control through the smartAC kit on 10,000 New York City air-conditioners, in order to get 5 megawatts of demand reduction, which is enough power for 5,000 homes.  Con Edison plans to distribute the kits this summer in large apartment buildings throughout New York City, working with building owners and tenants to install the energy saving devices.

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