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TXU Energy, based in Texas, is embracing broadband Internet connections to help customers better manage their energy consumption.  Recently, the energy retailer introduced a smart thermostat that benefits energy distributors as well as consumers.

Called the iThermostat, the new energy-saving device was first introduced in 2008.  The thermostat connects to the Internet through a home broadband connection and allows homeowners to remotely access and control their heating and cooling.  The iThermostat also has a mechanism that can be accessed by TXU Energy to cycle off the air conditioning during times of critically high demand for short periods of time.

Customers can track and monitor their heating and cooling costs from anywhere in the world and can also receive email alerts detailing efficiency tips and daily consumption estimates.  “Our focus is on helping customers control their energy use so they can save money,” said Jim Burke, CEO of TXU Energy, in a June news release.

Unlike other utilities that rely on third parties to develop energy management software, TXU Energy developed its Power Monitor, an energy dashboard management system, completely in-house.  Power Monitor works to display energy consumption data from a meter on a user interface without relying on a broadband connection.  Power Monitor could function as a stand-in until smart meters are installed throughout TXU Energy’s service area which will take years to complete.

The power provider has promised to spend $100 million on energy efficiency and demand-side management tools over the next five years.  According to Chip Deaver, director of product innovation, the new tools have been “successful” but added that “there’s still a lot of work to be done.”  The installation charge of $75 might be steep for some, but Deaver says the new devices are already saving customers money.

With a partially deregulated energy market, Texas is a hotbed for innovative product development.  The market isn’t completely deregulated – companies like Oncor and CenterPoint Energy that sell electricity transmission and distribution are still regulated – but the companies that interact directly with consumers are.  According to Deaver, TXU Energy is the largest consumer utility in Texas with more than 2.2 million customers but has more than 30 competitors.

Oncor and CenterPoint are responsible for choosing and installing smart meters.  Oncor plans to have 800,000 Landis+Gyr smart meters installed by the end of 2009.  TXU Energy is developing products that will utilise the new smart meters.  It was one of the first in the world to announce it will make Google’s PowerMeter available for its customers.

Tools that operate in conjunction with smart meters operate much differently than the iThermostat.  Oncor’s system will use radio frequencies to communicate smart meter data and could take 24 hours before it is compiled and displayed on a customer’s energy dashboard.  The iThermostat’s broadband connection will be much more capable of handling functions in real time.

TXU Energy
PO Box 650700
Dallas, TX 75265-0700

Oncor Electric Deliver Company
PO Box 660476
Dallas, TX 75266-0476

CenterPoint Energy, Inc.
P.O. Box 4567
Houston, Texas

Landis+Gyr AG
Feldstrasse 1
CH-6301 Zug

1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
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