We Can Help More Californians Save Energy and Money with Smart Home Devices


By Lillian Mirviss

April 5, 2021

Use of smart home devices is rapidly expanding. We ask Alexa to give us the weather forecast, Siri to set a timer or Google to play a song. When we’re away from home, we can use apps to monitor our front door, turn on our smart appliances or even feed our pets treats.

Some smart home devices, such as interactive thermostats, power strips and appliances, are more than just convenient. They can play a vital role in conserving home energy use, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and keeping the power grid running smoothly.

California took a major step in advancing smart home appliances in 2019 by approving Senate Bill (SB) 49—the Clean Power, Smart Power bill—requiring appliance manufacturers to make more smart devices. The next step is to approve Assembly Bill (AB) 699 this year to establish a rebate program for low- and moderate-income residents to get access to these money-saving devices.

Smart home devices benefit power customers and the grid

Smart home devices can save utility customers money by helping them take advantage of time-of-use rates, which charge less for energy when demand is lowest. This is especially relevant for low- and moderate-income families living in a state with some of the highest electricity prices in the country.

When a customer installs a smart appliance or device and enrolls in a utility or third-party demand response program, a dishwasher may wait to run until a time when rates are lower, or an air conditioner may turn down in the evening when electricity demand peaks. This not only helps with bill savings, but it also allows homes to use energy when the grid is cleanest, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Customers can always opt to override this automation, but then they would get fewer benefits overall.

When more customers install smart appliances and participate in demand response programs, energy suppliers can more easily shift or curtail power to reduce grid stress, improving reliability for everyone. This can limit or avoid power outages and rolling blackouts like California saw in August 2020. Better grid management can also reduce the need for backup fossil fuel power plants, advancing progress toward climate action goals.

While smart devices can reduce individuals’ energy costs and increase overall energy stability, their cost can be out of reach to low- and moderate-income families.

AB 699 makes smart tech more affordable and accessible

To increase the affordability of smart appliance technologies, Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) introduced AB 699. It would provide an instantaneous point-of-purchase rebate of 50% on smart home appliances such as smart thermostats, plugs, and power strips. The California Energy Commission would allocate $15 million to help consumers with purchases.

AB 699 calls for the program administrator to partner with community-based organizations and provides a specific budget for the organizations to do outreach to low- and moderate-income consumers about smart devices and rebates. The bill would create a clearinghouse of information on eligible devices, how to buy them, which demand response programs they can be connected to, and other available incentives.

Smart appliances play a role in achieving climate goals

As climate change increases the likelihood of more frequent and intense extreme weather, from heat waves and wildfires to intense cold spells like we saw in Texas, reducing climate-changing emissions while increasing grid resilience and reliability grow in importance. Widespread use of smart home appliances can be part of the suite of demand response solutions to balance the grid and help integrate more renewable energy resources. AB 699 supports that aim while providing more equitable opportunity for low- and moderate-income consumers to save energy and money and help California meet its zero-carbon clean energy goals.

Lillian Mirviss

Senior Manager, Government Affairs

Lillian is a strategic communicator and project manager focused on energy policy that pushes California toward its climate goals. Based in Sacramento, she manages government affairs for CSE, walking the (virtual) halls of the capitol to promote decarbonization legislation and ensure budgets for…

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