AUSTIN (KXAN) - The hot summer months are quickly approaching. It's also the time of year energy usage surges in an effort to keep homes cool.
Now, there's a new version of the programmable thermostat available to help cut down on high energy bills. As an added bonus, Austin Energy is offering a rebate for those who install one.
"Your air conditioning system uses more electricity than anything else in your whole home," said Jason Ballard, vice president and co-founder of TreeHouse. "If you can use that electricity more wisely or more efficiently, then you're going to see the biggest savings in that area."
Austin Energy is offering an $85 rebate for customers who install a new smart thermostat. The program is similar to their free thermostat program, which is no longer offered.
In exchange for the rebate, Austin Energy can turn up the temperature in your home during peak usage times. The energy provider will be able to increase the temperature no more than four degrees, and around 10-15 times over the summer. Peak usage times run from 4-6 p.m.
"You can think about it like our traffic problem actually," Ballard said. "There are certain times of day when everyone gets on the roads and it clogs up the roads system. There are also certain times of day everyone's using electricity at the same time or turning down their air conditioners at the same time. It really clogs up the energy grid."
"It can cause brownouts and blackouts, which are frustrating for customers, and actually very expensive for Austin Energy," Ballard added.
There are several thermostat brands that qualify:
• Nest (available at TreeHouse and Lowe's)
• Filtrete by 3M Radio Thermostat of America/EnergyHub (available at Home Depot)
• ecobee (available through local heating and air conditioning contractors)
"It actually auto-programs itself," Ballard said. "You just turn the handle to whatever temperatures you want and it learns what you like, what you're comfortable with. It knows when you're away from home, when you come home, when you go to sleep, when you wake up etcetera, etcetera."
"If finds the most energy efficient way to use your ac unit that you're comfortable with," he said. "People usually see remarkable savings remarkably quickly."
The smart versions also connect to your home's WiFi and you can control what goes on at home from a website or an app on your phone or tablet.
Russell Clayton, who works at TreeHouse, said he has used the Nest for more than a year.
"I have year-over-year savings to see that I've cut my energy usage in half," Clayton said. "I don't really use too much energy as it is, but my wastewater is more expense than my electricity."
Residential Austin Energy customers with questions about the program can contact Austin Energy at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 482-5346.
Late Saturday night into early Sunday morning, a light band of freezing drizzle traversed the I-35 corridor eastward. With sub-freezing temperatures, even the light precipitation created major problems.
A 10-year-old was killed while standing outside a vehicle after the child's family was involved in a fender bender, DPS said.
Austin Police are looking for a missing woman.
APD is responding to a 25 vehicle accident near the 5400 block of Ed Bluestein near Thurgood Ave.
A man is dead after being hit by several vehicles in the eastbound lane of Highway 71 Saturday night.
A representative at the Fayette County Sheriff's office said that Fayette County is effectively shut down due to icy conditions.