Google's Nest Renew program can help you use more clean energy at home

Get insights on the electricity coming into your house.


Google's latest effort to help you make more environmentally friendly decisions is all about your power grid. The new Nest Renew program is a suite of features that look at the times of day when the electricity feeding into your home is cleaner and turning your compatible Nest thermostats on or off accordingly. Renew arrives in a by-invitation preview in the coming weeks, and will be available for free in the continental US when it launches publicly.

At the heart of Nest Renew is the understanding that at any given time, the power grid in your neighborhood contains a mix of clean and traditional energy. In the early afternoon, perhaps, there could be a higher concentration of electricity from solar sources, while a windier day could mean more power from turbines is coming through. Depending on the region, power grids could be getting their electricity from a diverse mix of sources. According to Nest product manager Jeff Gleeson, "a smart dynamic electric grid really needs smart homes."

Nest Renew will not only automate some of this decision-making for you, but it can also give you insights on the type of power coming into your home. First, a new feature called Energy Shift will let those with a Google account and compatible Nest Thermostat automatically activate heating or cooling during times when your grid is cleaner.

A sample of the Monthly Impact Report from Google's new Nest Renew Program on a laptop screen.

Because Google can now see how carbon-intense a grid is, it can start cooling, say, earlier in the day when solar energy is more available (and your home is approaching your temperature limit). Gleeson told Engadget that the company doesn't think people will notice a difference with this change, and stresses that "customers are always in control."

If your thermostat kicks in before you want it to, you can always dial it back down, and you'll know the device is making a Renew-related decision thanks to a green leaf that will appear onscreen. For those whose energy provider charges based on time-of-use, this can also help you save money.

Nest has had the leaf symbol on its product for years as an indicator of more power-efficient temperature control. Now, you can earn leafs by doing things like using Energy Shift, joining monthly challenges to do things like running your laundry on cold. When you accumulate enough leafs to hit milestones, you can vote where Google sends its funds (from a list of its Energy Impact partners starting with non-profits GRID Alternatives and Elevate).

A Nest Thermostat showing the message

In addition to automatic adjustments via your thermostat, Nest Renew will provide monthly "impact reports" that not only tell you the difference you're making, but also display when the electricity coming into your home is greener. With this data, you can choose to run the laundry, dishwasher or charge your devices earlier or later when your grid is cleaner.

Renew is a free opt-in program and works with the third-generation Nest Learning Thermostat, the Nest Thermostat E or the most recent Nest Thermostat. Google is also offering a Premium tier for $10 a month in select parts of the US. It will unlock a Clean Energy Match feature that will exchange renewable energy credits (RECs) for what it estimates to be the same amount of fossil fuel-based electricity you use at home each month. This way, even if clean energy isn't available when you need to use it, you can at least assuage your guilt over using non-renewable power. Premium members will also get a unified bill that shows their monthly subscription to the program as well as their usual utility charges.

Gleeson said Nest has been working on this program for years, and in that time it has teamed up with utilities and energy providers to encourage enrollment in residential programs, among other things. For Nest Renew, it's teamed up with eight Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS) providers to help shape the program to meet their respective zero-carbon goals.

Through the Nest Thermostats, increased visibility and marketing and relevant rewards programs, Google hopes to get more people enrolled in green energy utilities offers and programs. The company also wants to help utilities "bring more renewables online" and accelerate the process either by supporting them in building or buying renewable infrastructure, according to head of energy partnerships Hannah Bascom.

Google's slew of sustainability-minded announcements today demonstrate a continued commitment towards the "carbon-free future" that CEO Sundar Pichai wrote about a year ago. In what Pichai called "our third decade of climate action," Google plans to operate on carbon-free energy 24/7, help more than 500 cities reduce 1 gigaton of carbon emissions and enable its partners to reduce carbon emissions all by 2030. Nest Renew is a part of a wide-ranging set of updates today across Search, Maps and more to help Google's users make more-informed, environmentally friendly decisions.

Update (at 11am ET): This article was edited to correct a spelling error in Bascom's last name.