TECHNOLOGY BASICS: What are Advanced Thermostats?

Technology Overview
Centralize HVAC controls and optimize operations

An advanced thermostat is the next generation of thermostatic control for homes and small businesses, going beyond the basic schedules and “programming” that the 1973 energy crisis brought to thermostats in the late 1970s. Paralleling the consumer electronics boom, the last decade has seen a flood of colorful, engaging advanced thermostats with multiple sensors and algorithms. An advanced thermostat has more capability to reduce the energy consumption of heating and cooling systems, respond to the electric utility grid, and is potentially easier and more convenient to use.

Advanced thermostats lower energy consumption and energy costs by reducing the runtime of heating, cooling, and fan equipment while maintaining safe and comfortable indoor environments. Thermostats adapt the target temperatures or setpoints of HVAC systems in response to occupancy, a programmed or learned schedule, or reliability/price signals from the utility grid.
Popular features include:

  • Remote access via a smart phone app and/or web browser interface
  • Grouping thermostats and changing grouped setpoints
  • Disabling manual override
  • Energy reports
  • Temperature band restrictions
  • Notifications (e.g., when an HVAC zone is operating outside of business hours, or if the zone temperature does not reach the target temperature)

Advanced algorithms include “learning” the building or zone heat transfer profile and/or occupant schedules and temperature preferences to improve energy performance and/or reduce the need for user input.

Potential non-energy benefits include improved comfort, added convenience, and lower costs due to reduced energy consumption and response to price signals. Networked systems allow a single manager to access and change settings in multiple zones or buildings. Thermostats may also promote grid reliance by responding to reliability or price signals.

When selecting an advanced thermostat, look for the features required by your application. Some advanced thermostats are more suited to residential settings than commercial. Some allow additional types of sensors (e.g., remote temperature sensors, carbon dioxide sensors). Some allow grouping of multiple thermostats for convenient scheduling.