Smart Thermostat Evaluation Protocol: December 2016 - May 2023

James Stewart, Carly Olig, Sepideh Shahinfard, Ken Agnew, Stefanie Wayland, Zachary Horvath, Jason Lai, Charles Kurnik, Charles Kurnik (NREL Technical Monitor)

Research output: NRELSubcontract Report


A smart thermostat is an internet-connected device that controls home heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment and can automatically adjust temperature set points to optimize performance and achieve energy savings. Smart thermostat features often include two way communication, occupancy detection (such as geofencing and occupancy sensors), schedule learning, and seasonal optimization algorithms. Smart thermostats can control most conventional HVAC systems, including central air conditioners, heat pumps, and forced air furnaces. Several types of residential utility programs offer smart thermostats as replacements measures. Working with smart thermostat vendors, utilities can offer separate optimization programs to produce energy savings beyond those achieved by installing a smart thermostat. From an evaluation perspective, smart thermostat programs have several noteworthy features. First, the energy savings from a smart thermostat may change over the life of the device. As a smart thermostat is connected to the internet, original equipment manufacturers can update the thermostat software to improve the thermostat's energy efficiency. Likewise, users can adjust the thermostat settings and schedules over time in response to changes in weather, thermal comfort, energy prices, or preferences for energy efficiency. Additionally, many thermostat manufacturers offer seasonal optimization programs that recommend changes or make minor, automated adjustments to the thermostat settings to improve energy efficiency. These opt-in programs are now standard offerings for many smart thermostat manufacturers and provided at no additional cost to users. The potential for software updates and continuous optimization and the evolving nature of user interactions mean future energy savings may differ from first-year savings and the energy savings of smart thermostats may need to be evaluated more than once. Second, smart thermostats often have small unit energy savings relative to a home's total energy consumption, especially in comparison to whole- home retrofit programs. This can make it difficult to detect the smart thermostat savings in billing or advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) meter consumption data. For example, as cooling loads in many regions average about 20% of annual electricity consumption, smart thermostat savings of 10% of cooling energy use would equate to a 2% reduction in home electricity consumption. Evaluators should use regression analysis of whole-home billing consumption or advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) meter consumption data to evaluate smart thermostat savings because, as explained at greater length below , these data are usually available to evaluators and regression can control for the impacts of weather and other potentially confounding factors on a home's energy consumption. Finally, as with other energy efficiency programs, participation in smart thermostat programs is self-selective. As discussed at greater length below , smart thermostat participants tend to be, among other things, younger, higher-income, and more likely to adopt electric vehicles (EVs) and internet connected devices than nonparticipants. These differences are often unobservable to the evaluator and correlated with a home's energy consumption, creating the potential for bias in estimating savings. Due to the small unit savings of thermostats, errors and biases from self-selection that may not be very consequential when evaluating a whole- home retrofits (e.g., +/-2% of home electricity consumption) can have a major impact when evaluating the savings and cost-effectiveness of smart thermostat programs. A percentage point change in the estimated savings could affect the cost-effectiveness of a program. This means it is important for evaluators to assess and to minimize the potential for error from selection bias in estimating smart thermostat program savings. The Uniform Methods Project provides model protocols for determining energy savings and demand reductions that result from specific energy efficiency measures implemented through state and utility programs. In most cases, the measure protocols are based on a particular option identified by the International Performance Verification and Measurement Protocol; however, this work provides a more detailed approach to implementing that option. Each chapter is written by technical experts in collaboration with their peers, reviewed by industry experts, and subject to public review and comment. The UMP protocols can be used by utilities, program administrators, public utility commissions, evaluators, and other stakeholders for both program planning and evaluation.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages51
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Work performed by Cadmus Group, Waltham, Massachusetts; Guidehouse, McLean, Virginia; Quantum Energy Analytics, San Diego, California; DNV GL, Baerum, Norway; California Energy Commission, Sacramento, California

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/SR-5R00-86175


  • energy efficiency program
  • evaluation
  • M&V
  • measurement and verification
  • protocol
  • smart thermostat
  • uniform methods project


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