Energy management systems are comprised of four key components in your home's electrical system: four key components: a smart panel, consumption monitors, smart circuits, and a monitoring & control app. Bring these pieces together and they empower you to make smarter energy decisions that ultimately translate into savings.
The smart panel is the heart of your energy management system. It typically takes two forms: a replacement for your current electrical panel (aka breaker box) or 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).
You can also choose to keep your current electrical panel, which will reduce the time and cost of installation. Other smart panels (such as the Lumin Smart Electrical Panel) can be placed adjacent to and integrated with your electrical panel–these provide the same monitoring and control capabilities with some rewiring of your current electrical panel.
You don't need an energy management system to monitor your electricity consumption. However, a consumption monitor is integral to the energy management system. These monitors can take various forms and track your usage at different points, providing varying levels of detail into your home's energy usage.
Most smart panels can provide you with consumption data at the circuit level–so you can 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 your circuits should already be smart.
If you 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.
Finally, one of the most critical aspects of an energy management system is the app that allows you to monitor and control–which should be accessible via iOS, Android, and web browsers. Each app may have different strengths and weaknesses, but all should provide you with the same basic functionalities. First and foremost, you should be able to see how much electricity you're consuming at the circuit or device levels. You should also be able to use the app to turn each circuit on and off–whether you're sitting on your couch or traveling across the country.
Many apps will also provide statistics about individual devices, including trends and costs over time. You may also 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 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 produce 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 an outage, your energy management system will prioritize your most important appliances and devices to run from 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 can turn off the push notifications in your app. By opting into notifications, you'll likely obtain some additional benefits. Many apps can warn you when certain appliances or circuits use more or less power than usual. The app may also send you tips for further savings or an alert when you experience a power outage.
In our next section, we'll describe the benefits of energy management systems.