What are the components of an energy management system?
Last updated 9/21/2021
Energy management systems empower you to make smarter energy decisions that ultimately translate into savings. Thus, it’s no surprise that the two main capabilities of an energy management system are energy monitoring and control. Monitoring allows you to track your energy consumption, typically at the circuit or device level. While you can purchase standalone energy monitoring systems, an energy management system gives you the significant added benefit of energy control–typically at the circuit level.
What enables these systems to provide you with this monitoring and control? To be considered an energy management system, your device must have four key components: a smart panel, consumption monitors, smart circuits, and a monitoring & control app. The main difference between the different components of an energy management system is where they are situated: are they downstream (i.e., at each individual outlet in your home), or are they a top-level setup (i.e., a smart panel that covers your whole home). Each of these components can be integrated into your system differently depending on your system of choice, but, when combined, will form your energy management system.
The smart panel is the heart of your energy management system and can typically take two forms: a replacement of your current electrical panel (aka breaker box), or just an addition. If you need to upgrade your electrical panel for any reason–such as if you have an older home and want to install solar panels–you might select a system that fully replaces your electrical panel (such as the Schneider Square D Energy Center or the Span Smart Panel).
However, if you want to reduce the time and cost of your energy management system installation, you can also choose to keep your current electrical panel. Other smart panels (such as the Lumin Smart Electrical Panel) can be placed adjacent to and integrated with your electrical panel–these will provide the same monitoring and control capabilities with some rewiring of your current electrical panel.
You don’t need an energy management system just to monitor your electricity consumption. However, a consumption monitor is an integral part of the energy management system. These monitors can take various forms and can track your usage at different points, providing varying levels of detail.
Most smart panels are able to provide you with consumption data at the circuit level–so, you’ll be able to see how much power you’re drawing from each circuit. You can also add additional monitoring devices, which can provide you with more detailed data. These monitors (such as Sense) use artificial intelligence and machine learning to learn “electricity signatures” associated with individual devices and provide you with energy usage data at the device level.
The differentiating factor between an energy management system and a standalone consumption monitor is the control aspect–and that’s where smart circuits (or breakers) come into play. These controllable circuits allow you to remotely turn each circuit on and off (aka no more trips down to the basement if that’s where your current electrical panel is located!). If you replace your electrical panel with a smart panel, all of your circuits should already be smart.
If you choose to purchase an add-on smart panel, your electrical panel will be rewired to make your “ordinary” circuits smart. One of these smart panels may not cover all of your circuits, so if you want control over every single circuit, you’ll likely need to purchase multiple add-on smart panels. If you want control at the device level, you can also purchase smart plugs, which upgrade your current electrical outlets so you can control them from your phone. Depending on your energy management system, these may or may not be able to be controlled through the same app.
Monitoring & control app
Finally, one of the most important aspects of an energy management system is the app that allows you to actually conduct the monitoring and control–which should be accessible via iOS, Android, and web browser. Each app may have different strengths and weaknesses, but all should provide you the same basic functionalities. First and foremost, you should be able to see how much electricity you’re consuming (again, this can either be at the circuit level or at the device level depending on your consumption monitor). You should also be able to use the app to turn each circuit on and off–whether you’re sitting on your couch or travelling across the country.
Many apps will also provide you with statistics about individual devices, including trends and costs over time. You may also be able to see real-time cost tracking, allowing you to see how much electricity you’re consuming and how much it’s costing you at any given time. If you live in an area with time-of-use (TOU) rates–in which you pay more for electricity when demand is higher–some apps will also allow you to enter the different rates and increase the accuracy of your electricity costs in the app.
If you have solar panels, a solar battery, and/or an electric vehicle (EV) charger, your monitoring & control app should integrate with these clean energy upgrades. You should be able to see how much energy your panels are producing and the charge left on your solar battery. With your app, you might also be able to set preferences for load shedding, so that in the event of an outage, your energy management system will automatically shed certain loads to keep your most important devices powered by your battery. You should also be able to see the charge status of your EV (and some apps in the future may even allow you to control its rate of charge).
If you get enough notifications on your phone already and aren’t looking to add any more, you’ll be able to turn off the push notifications in your app. However, by opting in to notifications–and in the case of some apps, customizing which notifications you wish you receive–you’ll likely obtain some additional benefits. Many apps will be able to send you warnings when certain appliances or circuits are using more or less power than usual. The app may also be able to send you tips for further savings or an alert when you’re experiencing a power outage.
In our next section, we'll describe the benefits of energy management systems.