What are the benefits of energy management systems?
Last updated 9/2/2021
Buying an energy management system requires an upfront investment, but for many, it’s well worth it considering the financial, resiliency, and safety advantages these technologies provide. In this section, we'll discuss the top benefits of energy management systems.
Savings on electric bills
You can only learn so much about your energy habits from looking at your electric bill; it’ll let you know how much electricity you use over a given billing cycle, and may even tell you how that compares to your neighbor’s, but it won’t give you information about which appliances consume the most energy, how much energy they use individually, or whether they still operate efficiently.
This is the clearest benefit of home energy management systems: these technologies tell you which parts of your home use the most electricity, and when they use it. And with this information in hand, you can take a more proactive approach to reducing your energy usage and resulting electric bill – whether that means unplugging appliances you learn draw a surprising amount of energy when powered off (i.e. phantom loads), changing the time of day you use certain appliances in areas with time-of-use (TOU) rates, or upgrading energy-intensive appliances to newer, efficient models. In short, you’ll have a full picture of your home’s energy landscape, empowering you to assess the cost of your energy decisions – and make smarter ones moving forward.
It’s difficult to say how much you can save with an energy management system, because it varies from household to household, and relies heavily on individual electricity consumption habits. Furthermore, you’ll only save money if you actually take action based on the insights these technologies provide!
Solar (and storage) system size and design
If you’ve started shopping for solar, you’ve probably had a solar installation company ask about your average electric bill. And if you haven’t looked into solar yet, don’t be shocked when this happens: installers need electric usage information to properly design a solar panel system to meet your needs.
It’s relatively easy to gather your historical electricity usage from your utility company, but more granular data–like the time of day you consume the most energy or which circuits draw the most electricity–is difficult to come by without using energy management products. While this is less important if you install a grid-tied solar on its own and take advantage of 1:1 net metering, it’s a key piece of the puzzle for solar-plus-storage systems – how much solar electricity you need to store in your battery and when you want to pull from it play a huge role in an installer’s solar and storage recommendations, both from a system size and overall product prospective.
Given the cost of solar today and the price of each incremental battery (often over $10K), you want to ensure you only pay for what you need. And with the flexibility and control that energy management systems provide at the circuit level, you can support your home’s most essential features with a smaller (i.e. less expensive) battery.
Backup power capabilities
Like we mentioned above, energy management systems provide more control and flexibility – ergo, some impressive capabilities for backup power during outages.
Today, most solar-plus-storage installations come paired with a critical load panel – this is basically a smaller, simplified electrical panel that installers connect to your storage system. Considering most batteries don’t have enough capacity to power your entire home during an outage, a critical load panel lets you choose a limited number of circuits that can draw power from your battery during an outage.
Though better than the blackout alternative, critical load panels present some limitations – mainly, you have to make decisions about which circuits you want to backup at the time of installation, and it’s not easy to change these settings down the line. However, if you pair your battery with an energy management system (e.g., a smart panel), you’ll have control over individual circuits, and can instantaneously decide which appliances or rooms you want to provide with backup power. Plus, you can easily alter these settings as your preferences and situations change – what you decide today doesn’t limit your options for the future. In many cases, switching these settings can be as easy as clicking a button in a mobile app.
As an added resiliency bonus, energy management systems can help you understand which of your non-essential energy loads use the most electricity. Given this knowledge, you can set up your system to shed these loads when the power goes out. This will not only help you conserve backup power for vital appliances, but will also extend the life of your battery.
Safety and maintenance advantages
How many times have you been caught with an unforeseen broken appliance? And does it always seem to happen at the worst time ever?
If you never want to experience faulty air conditioning on the hottest day of the year (and let’s be honest, who does), energy management solutions are worth a look. With the insights these technologies provide, you can see when your appliances begin to fail and proactively schedule repairs.
Efficiency and maintenance alerts are also incredibly useful when it’s time to replace your appliances. Oftentimes, when a vital appliance breaks unexpectedly–think your refrigerator, or HVAC–you don’t have the time to research new technologies, fully compare your options, and ensure you find the best solution. Rather, you have to rush to find a quick solution, and get a company to install it as soon as possible.
Energy management technologies help prevent these situations: by tracking the energy performance of different appliances on different circuits, these technologies can detect anomalous behavior early and alert you to the need to either get your appliance checked out or to start thinking about replacing it. Pretty cool, huh?
These capabilities are also invaluable when it comes to safety – for example, certain energy management systems can alert you to clogged dryer vents, helping you avoid unnecessary fire risks.
Energy management systems will be integral to our country’s transition to widespread electrification and decarbonization. However, given the infancy of these technologies, incentive programs remain fairly limited.
Expect that to change in the near future: in the spring of 2021, Green Mountain Power (GMP) became the first utility company to offer Span’s smart electric panels to its customers. Their pilot program, which will allow 100 customers to get a new smart panel at no cost, is a strong indicator of what we can expect from utilities in the future – incentivizing energy management technologies in an effort to help customers lower energy consumption, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and strengthen the electric grid.
In our next section, we'll help you decide if you should get an energy management system.