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March 29, 2017

Energy Technologies and Trends of 2016: Things That Make You Go “Hmm”

You may have noticed that 2016 was tumultuous for energy efficiency. Smart home technology continued to proliferate for lighting, thermostats, and voice-controlled hubs, but potential problems with these devices also emerged, such as a massive hack that employed hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected devices. Public policy initiatives—including cannabis legalization in eight states—encouraged several nascent efforts to develop and diffuse more-efficient energy technology. Lastly, evidence emerged that efficiency improvements led to a slowing or stopping of load growth in data centers and commercial buildings. Combined, these trends challenged energy professionals in 2016 and we’d wager that we’ll see their effects for years to come.

Each year since 2012, our tech team has compiled a list of exciting, noteworthy, or promising technologies. Here are 2 of the 20 themes that made our list in 2016. To get more, download our e-book Six Technologies and Trends That Challenged Energy Professionals in 2016.

New Efforts to Measure, Reduce Grid Impacts from Cannabis Cultivation

In 2016, eight more states voted in favor of legalized cannabis. In all, 29 US states now permit the legal use of cannabis for medical reasons, and 8 states plus the District of Columbia allow individuals 21 and older to use pot recreationally. Because the vast majority of regulated commercial cannabis is grown indoors, impacts to the electricity grid have been significant, and the greatest impacts are in states where recreational pot use has been made legal. Though the exact quantity of energy consumed for indoor cannabis cultivation remains unknown, estimates range from 1 to 3 percent of total electricity generation in states with legal recreational pot. Two efforts are now under way to establish more-accurate baseline estimates of industry resource consumption and guide improvements in facility operational efficiency. One initiative, led by the nonprofit Resource Innovation Institute, is tapping industry experts via a Technical Advisory Committee to develop best practices for the efficient use and management of energy, water, and nutrients. A similar effort by the Cannabis Conservancy seeks to deliver sustainability certification and standards (PDF) for cannabis growers.

Some Smart Thermostats Increase Energy Consumption

Smart thermostats have been growing in popularity for several years, but research released in 2016 demonstrates that some smart thermostats could be contributing to an increase in energy consumption. In the Energy Trust of Oregon Smart Thermostat Pilot Evaluation (PDF), owners of 383 participating homes installed Nest and Honeywell Lyric thermostats. Researchers collected data on energy consumption before and after the treatment and found that the Lyric contributed to an average increase in natural gas consumption in the participating homes. Participants with Nest thermostats saved an average of 34 therms per year, whereas Lyric users increased their annual average usage by 29 therms. The Energy Trust research didn’t explore the reason for the energy increase, but it could be the result of differing energy-saving strategies used by each product manufacturer, as discussed in the E Source report Smart Thermostats Rising: Current Technologies and Trends (available to members of the E Source Demand-Side Management or Technology Assessment Services). Despite the study’s negative findings for overall average energy savings, in homes with low initial gas usage (less than 618 therms per year) the Lyric saved 27 therms annually.

Want to See More of Our Picks?

For more of our top technologies and trends—including residential voice control, a solution for declining cost-effectiveness in Energy Design Assistance Programs, lighting and space heating energy consumption, and low-capacity furnaces—check out Six Technologies and Trends that Challenged Energy Professionals in 2016.

About the Authors

Bryan Jungers


Lead Analyst, Technology Assessment

Bryan Jungers conducts research on emerging, energy-efficient, and distributed energy resource technologies. His main areas of expertise lie in electric vehicles, electric motors, batteries and energy storage, distributed generation, and renewable power systems. He holds a BS in environmental engineering from Humboldt State University and an MS in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California at Davis.

Logan Jacobson


Analyst, Technology Assessment

Logan Jacobson focuses on energy-efficiency technologies and researches and answers Ask E Source inquiries on technology topics. Before joining E Source, she worked at Beloit College as an electronics researcher and designed a lab apparatus used to confirm the Wiedemann-Franz Law. Logan has a BS in physics with a minor in mathematics from Beloit College in Wisconsin.

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Contributing Authors

Content Manager

In January 2019, Logan Jacobson began working as a content manager with E Source. Previously, she researched energy-efficient technologies...

Lead Analyst, Customer Energy Solutions

Bryan Jungers conducts research on emerging, energy-efficient, and distributed energy resource technologies. His main areas of expertise lie in...