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Smart Thermostats in the UK: Will Nest and its rivals take controls in 2014?

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Originally published Jan 2014, updated 02/04/2014

In 2014 smart thermostats will flood the global market as the drive for ‘ecotech’ rapidly gains momentum. In the UK alone at least six brands will launch their first smart thermostats and all claim to give us greater insight into our energy use, offer remote control of heating and make the promise to save us money. We've already seen Tado and Hive in the UK, and now US trailblazer Nest has confirmed it's soon to start selling its smart thermostat in the UK for £179.

What are smart thermostats? They are the early poster child of ‘The Internet of Things’ – small, low power, web connected devices that use the Internet to become smarter and more efficient - but will anyone sign up?

The main barrier is price. As with all first generation technology, the cost of smart thermostats is high – between £100 and £250 – and they come during a period of economic uncertainty. That said they also come during a period when energy prices are also sky rocketing and if these devices can deliver savings, the question will soon become: can you afford not to have one?

Smart Thermostats in the UK: The Pacesetter

Nest Labs
Status: Now on sale in the UK
Price: £179

Much of the credit for the sudden rise of smart thermostats goes to Nest Labs, the company founded by iPod creator Tony Fadell. It started in 2010 after Fadell left Apple, and introduced the first mainstream smart thermostat (simply called ‘Nest’) way ahead of the pack in late 2011.

Despite a $250 RRP by January 2013 the company was shipping between 40,000 and 50,000 thermostats a month, equivalent to one million per year. Remarkably these shipments came solely from the US. It's now confirmed plans to sell Nest in the UK for £179, having already started selling its excellent Nest Protect smart smoke alarm last year.

Whether Nest’s international rivals can match its magic formula remains to be seen since its appeal is both visual and functional. Fadell transferred his learning from Apple and the Nest has beautifully designed hardware and software. The thermostat itself has an elegant, minimalist, touch-senstive LED display while the accompanying smartphone and browser apps are clean, intuitive and simple.

The key selling point of the Nest thermostat is that it learns your heating preferences over time. This means it tracks when you reduce the temperature and to what level (either that it done via its Android and iOS apps, web browser or on the thermostat itself) so it can anticipate your needs.

Nest is also widely praised for its looks, easy installation and automatic software updates delivered via a permanent Wi-Fi connection.

On top of this Nest also has ‘occupancy detection’ which means it can tell when registered users are not in the house. It turns down the heating at these times and even learns to predict when you will return to home to turn it back up in advance. For homes in hotter locations the thermostat also works with air conditioning systems.

The main criticism is the Nest thermostat takes a fair bit of time to learn your preferences and you can’t pre-enter as many as you’d like. As such energy savings are reported to be between 10-25 per cent. Here the competition feels they can do better, quicker, while those with a separate hot water tank may find the Nest doesn't give them the control they need.

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