California thermostats and new home owners
In the California Building Code, dozens of proposals are being finalized for Title 24. One of considerable interest to the NEMA Residential and Commercial Controls Section involves the requirement of a device called an Upgradeable Setback Thermostat, or UST, in new construction homes. A UST is essentially a wireless programmable thermostat with the radio removed and a port available where a radio module may be inserted later. The goal of this proposal, developed by CEC staff, advocates and their advisors, is to allow for a homeowner or future homeowner to participate in demand response and other energy savings programs. This followed a turbulent 2008 proposal session where wireless thermostats were proposed as mandatory and encountered stiff pushback from privacy advocates, the media and the public. NEMA supports the use of intelligent climate controls, but does not support the UST proposal for several reasons: USTs essentially do not exist today, save for a few one-off proprietary designs, and as such would have to be created from scratch by companies who wished to continue eligibility in the California new home market. Additionally, standards for the communications of smart appliances are still in development, so solutions at this time would be proprietary and likely incompatible between brands. Likewise, individual product lines may not be interchangeable, and radio modules and their multiple combinations will all require Federal Communications Commission evaluation and certification, a requirement that increases in difficulty the more possible combinations there are. Lastly, in October NEMA members uncovered a utility patent application from a small California-based company for a thermostat which is clearly a UST. This manufacturer has been deeply involved in the CEC's UST development project. This patent discovery further muddies the waters of intellectual property and design considerations. NEMA alerted the CEC via letter to this patent (they were unaware of it) and asked for an investigation into all IP considerations surrounding USTs. NEMA has argued and will continue to argue that the issues of lack of standards and intellectual property should be resolved before this proposal might proceed and moreover that homeowners willing and interested in participating in energy programs already can and do acquire and install wireless thermostats from every major home improvement retailer. Regulations should encourage harmonization and proliferation of technologies, the UST proposal does not. NEMA will continue to pursue this matter in the coming months.
11-22-2011 8:00 AM