Customer Teri Hess wasn’t sure what she was getting into when she joined TEP’s Smart Rewards program last summer.

Through the program, customers allow their thermostat provider to make small, temporary adjustments to their home’s temperature in response to local energy grid conditions, typically during the hottest times in the summer. As a reward, participants receive an initial $50 prepaid MasterCard per thermostat, plus another $40 per thermostat if they stay enrolled for the coming season. Customers may enroll up to two thermostats.

Customers retain control of their thermostats and can override adjustments at any time.

While Hess was a little worried about the heat, she wanted to do her part to help relieve strain on the grid. She also felt better knowing that she had the flexibility to restore her preferred temperature if needed. But Hess never did. In fact, she barely noticed the adjustments.

“I was happy to participate. I plan to remain in the program as long as I can,” Hess said. “I don’t have any problem giving that control up for that brief time.”

As the summer season approaches, TEP is encouraging additional customers to enroll in Smart Rewards.

Last summer, TEP found that Smart Rewards was effective in providing relief to the grid during periods of peak demand. More than 6,900 customers participated in nine “events,” collectively saving enough energy to power the equivalent of roughly 2,300 homes.

“It might seem counterintuitive to turn up your air conditioning temperature when it’s hot, but what we’ve found is that not only are those few degrees not that noticeable for participating customers, but that they can make a huge difference collectively in balancing the grid in times during these temporary periods of peak demand,” said Julie Donavant, Principal of Energy Programs.

Programs that shift energy use help reduce the need for new energy resources, she said. They’re also an important way to help TEP achieve its aspirational goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Tucson’s warm, sunny weather attracted Hess here in 2004 after living in Kansas and Nebraska. She shares a three-bedroom, eastside house with three dogs and works 12-hour nursing shifts at a local hospital.

She first learned about Smart Rewards from a TEP brochure that included information about smart thermostats. “I just love it,” Hess said about her smart thermostat. “I have it tagged to my phone, so wherever I am, if I forget to turn the temperature down or up, I can easily adjust it. I can also see what the temperature is in my home at any time.”

Smart Rewards participants receive advance notice of planned temperature adjustments of a few degrees to reduce energy demand. Customers can opt out by simply changing their own thermostats.

Hess keeps her AC at around 78, and she was comfortable enough when the temperature went up to 80. “I had no problem with that. Half the time I’m not home anyway,” she said.

Hess’ positive experience was typical for participants, with 97 percent remaining in the program and 86 percent saying their comfort wasn’t impacted for those few hours during an event.

She noted the prepaid card was a “great perk,” which she used for Amazon and Starbucks, the latter being something she buys frequently. Hess also recommended the program to friends, adding she’s grateful for the opportunity to partner in using energy thoughtfully to support the broader environment.

“I’m participating to the fullest extent on this rewards program,” Hess said.

Learn more about Smart Rewards and watch a video about how it works. Sign up for Smart Rewards and buy a discounted smart thermostat.

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