Comparing energy management systems

Comparing energy management systems: how to understand the differences between products

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Energy management is a rapidly growing industry – and for good reason! Home electrification is a crucial step towards a clean energy future and more and more people are participating by upgrading their home setup with solar panels, battery storage systems, heat pumps, and electric vehicles (EVs)! Many of these people are looking for additional insight into their electricity usage, whether to reduce their carbon footprint, or to see savings on their electricity bills. 

But energy management systems can vary significantly by product, making it difficult to compare the various options available. In this article, we’ll explain some of the top companies in the energy management industry and explain the differences between their systems. 

Find out what solar + storage costs in your area in 2021

Key takeaways


  • Some of the key companies in the energy management industry are Span, Schneider Electric, Lumin, Emporia, and (now) Generac
  • Some of the major ways you can compare energy management systems include: set-up & ease of installation, monitoring capabilities, control capabilities, ability to integrate with other electrical devices, and cost
  • You’ll get the most out of your energy management system when you install it with solar-plus-storage
  • Visit the EnergySage Marketplace to get quotes from pre-vetted installers for your solar-plus-storage system

What’s in this article?

What are the major companies in the energy management industry?

Energy management systems all include two main components: monitoring and controls. Generally, they are designed to integrate with other electrical home upgrades including solar panels, solar batteries, and EV chargers. Using your smartphone or web browser, you’ll be able to access an app that provides you with remote access for these monitoring and control capabilities. The following companies all offer complete energy management systems and are some of the major leaders in the industry:

Span

Founded by a former Tesla engineer, Span is a relatively new startup company that has made big waves in the energy management industry since the launch of their first Smart Panel in late 2019. Span’s Smart Panel replaces your existing electrical panel, upgrading this ancient technology both in functionality and in design. Their newest Smart Panel, released in Spring 2021, offers an even sleeker design, supporting more loads at a lower cost.

Schneider Electric

You’ve probably heard of Schneider before – after all, they’re a multi-national company that’s been around for almost 200 years! Schneider is very experienced in making electrical panels (in fact, you might even have one in your home now) and in developing monitoring and control systems. Their Square D Energy Center combines their product expertise in one complete energy management system, designed to replace your existing electrical panel. You can also seamlessly integrate Schneider’s smart plugs or the Wiser Energy Monitor for device-level control and monitoring.

Lumin

Lumin is another new addition to the energy management industry. They offer an important alternative to Span and Schneider Electric: instead of replacing your current electrical panel, with a quick rewiring their Smart Panel makes your ordinary circuits “smart”! The system offers both monitoring and control by “intercepting” the load wire and inserting control and measurement technology with their own hardware that sits in a box next to your electrical panel. 

Emporia

Emporia offers a more decentralized approach in their energy management system. Instead of providing control through electrical circuits, their control aspect comes from smart plugs (and soon their home battery). Their smart plugs can also be used for monitoring, as can their various Vue Energy Monitor products, which are installed in electrical panels to provide circuit level monitoring. 

Generac

While not yet commercially available, Generac’s recently announced PWRmanager will be an exciting new addition to the energy management industry in Spring 2022. Similar to Lumin, their system will integrate with (instead of replacing) your current electrical panel to provide monitoring and control at the circuit level. The PWRmanager will also seamlessly integrate with their PWRcell System (which includes an automatic transfer switch, inverter, and battery) and their recently launched PWRgenerator (which recharges the PWRcell battery when sunlight is lacking).  

Comparing energy management systems

Now that you’re familiar with some of the key companies in the energy management industry, you’re probably wondering how their products compare! We’ll break down some of the key differences between each energy management system in terms of set-up and ease of installation, monitoring, control, integration of energy devices, and cost. 

Set-up & ease of installation

  • Replaces your electrical panel: Span & Schneider Electric
  • Adds on to your electrical panel: Lumin & Generac
  • Doesn’t include a smart panel: Emporia
  • Stackable: Span & Lumin

The first thing you’ll want to consider when deciding on an energy management system is the type of set-up you’re looking for. With the exception of Emporia, all of the systems on our list include a smart panel (aka the brains of the system). Smart panels generally take two forms: a total replacement of your existing electrical panel, or an add-on. Generally, if you’re looking to add solar or other electrical upgrades, you’ll need to have a 200 amp panel to accommodate the solar and storage (or EV charger and ASHP) and a replacement will likely cost you anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 – in this case, you might opt for an energy management system that fully replaces your electrical panel.

However, if you already have an electrical panel that can accommodate the energy upgrades you want to make, choosing a simple add-on solution could save you in terms of installation time and costs. For example, replacing your electrical panel with a Span Smart Panel could take 5-7 hours, while Lumin and Generac claim their systems can be installed in only 90 minutes! In the case of Emporia, while you don’t need to install an electrical panel, they do suggest that a qualified electrician install the Vue Energy Monitor products (though this will take significantly less time and money to install than the other systems).

Finally, you’ll want to consider if you plan on stacking your system to provide more monitoring and control capabilities. Most people likely don’t need multiple electrical panels, but if you want granular control of multiple circuits, both Span and Lumin Smart Panels can be stacked. 

CompanySet-upDoes it replace your electrical panel?Can you stack it?
SpanSmart PanelYesYes
Schneider ElectricSmart Panel + monitoring device (and smart plugs, if desired)YesNo (but you can install multiple smart plugs)
LuminSmart Panel add-onNoYes
EmporiaMonitoring device + smart plugsNoNo (but you can install multiple smart plugs)
GeneracSmart Panel add-onNoNo

Monitoring

  • Includes current monitoring (device level, less accurate): Schneider Electric
  • Includes circuit monitoring (circuit breaker level, more accurate): Span, Lumin, Emporia, & Generac

As we previously explained, one of the primary components of energy management systems is monitoring – so, it’s no surprise that this is a major comparison factor. There are a few different ways in which energy management systems can monitor your energy, including at the circuit, current, or outlet level. 

Since Span’s circuits are inherently smart, their system is able to directly meter the power being drawn from each circuit with +/- 0.5% accuracy. Lumin, Emporia, and Generac all use circuit sensors which clamp onto individual circuits with similar accuracy – just like Span, Lumin also boasts +/- 0.5% accuracy. Each product varies in the number of smart circuits that can be monitored; energy management products that can be stacked offer the potential to increase the number of circuits monitored. 

Instead of circuit sensors, Schneider Electric’s Wiser Energy Monitor uses current sensors, which are not quite as accurate but provide more detailed information about individual appliances (as opposed to just info at the circuit level, as a single circuit could cover an entire room or more of your home). The current sensors use machine learning to detect unique device signatures, allowing you to see how much energy each appliance is consuming in real time. Both Schneider Electric and Emporia also offer smart plugs with built in monitors, which you can similarly use to determine the amount of power being drawn by individual appliances.

CompanyLevel of monitoringNumber of monitorsType of monitoring
SpanCircuit32 circuits (can stack to increase number of circuits)Circuit metering
Schneider ElectricCurrent and/or outlet (with smart plugs)All appliances, any outlets with smart plugsCurrent sensors and/or outlet power draw (with smart plugs)
LuminCircuit12 circuits (can stack to increase number of circuits)Circuit sensors
EmporiaCircuit and/or outlet (with smart plugs)8 or 16 circuits, any outlets with smart plugsCircuit sensors and/or outlet power draw (with smart plugs)
GeneracCircuit12 circuitsCircuit sensors

Controls

  • Provides whole home backup: Span, Lumin, & Generac
  • Provides partial home backup: Schneider Electric
  • Includes smart plugs: Schneider Electric & Emporia

The other major component of an energy management system is control. Similar to circuit level monitoring, circuit level control varies based on the number of smart circuits in the smart electrical panel. These smart circuits use relays (aka electrically operated switches) to allow you to remotely turn them on and off from your mobile device. Smart plugs, on the other hand, plug directly into your outlet and then your device plugs into them. A circuit is built directly into the smart plug with a controller that can similarly be remotely managed on your phone or computer, allowing for control of individual devices. 

A typical electrical panel has between 20 and 40 circuits, depending on its size. Thus, Smart Panels with 12 circuits (like Lumin and Generac) aren’t able to cover your whole home – for example, Lumin estimates that its panels are designed to cover 75 to 80% of your home’s loads (but you can stack multiple Lumin panels for full home coverage). On the other hand, both Span and Schneider Electric’s Smart Panels both provide full home coverage in most instances right out of the box (and Span’s panels can be stacked if you have a particularly large home). It’s also important to note that the current rating for each circuit is 60 Amps for Lumin and Generac, whereas Span and Schneider Electric both have current ratings of 90 Amps, meaning each circuit can support a higher load. 

Many people are also interested in energy management systems for their ability to protect and maximize their home storage system. In many cases, when you install a storage system, you’ll typically need to also install a critical load panel –  basically a secondary electrical panel that protects your appliances and battery from unintended electrical failures and ensures that your essential devices remain powered by your battery. A Smart Panel replaces the need for a critical load panel, but can vary in the level of backup provided (i.e., the number of circuits it allows you to back up with a battery).

In the case of Span, Lumin, and Generac, you’re able to choose which circuits are immediately powered in the event of an outage and remotely shift circuits in and out of this essential list. This means that you can get more functionality out of a smaller battery. With Schneider Electric’s system, you’re not able to remotely shift circuits in and out of your essential category. Thus, if you want whole home backup, you have to choose a battery that can cover all of your energy needs in the event of an outage. When you install Schneider’s Smart Panel, you can choose to have it wired for partial backup, whole home backup, or advanced backup, which allows you to manually switch between partial and whole home backup (but then you aren’t able to integrate a generator into your system). 

Emporia states that their Smart Home Energy System (which will be available in Fall 2021) can be remotely managed with their mobile app, suggesting that you might be able to remotely control your loads; however, they have not yet released the specifics. 

CompanyNumber of controlsCurrent ratingBattery backup controlType of control
Span32 circuits (can stack to increase number of circuits)90 AmpsWhole home backup, can remotely switch what’s in your “Must Have,” “Nice to Have,” and “Not Essential” categoriesRelays
Schneider Electric60 circuits, any outlets with smart plugs90 AmpsOffers partial backup, whole home backup (with a large battery), or advanced backup which allows you to manually switch between partial and whole home (but then you can’t integrate a generator)Relays and/or any smart plugs
Lumin12 circuits (can stack to increase number of circuits)60 AmpsWhole home backup, establish which loads are critical to back up and remotely shift which circuits fall in this categoryRelays
EmporiaAny outlets with smart plugs; potentially directly through Smart Home Battery SystemNot applicableStates that you can “remotely manage with mobile app,” but doesn’t specify what this entailsSmart plugs
Generac12 circuits60 AmpsWhole home backup, establish which loads are critical to back up and remotely shift which circuits fall in this categoryRelays

Integration of energy devices

  • Product agnostic (more flexible, less accurate): Schneider Electric & Lumin
  • Product specific (less flexible, more accurate): Span, Emporia, & Generac

Odds are that if you’re considering an energy management system, you also have or are considering other electrical devices that you’ll want to easily integrate with your system. All of the products on our list work well with solar and storage – but, while they’re all solar agnostic, some only integrate with certain storage systems. 

It’s important to note that while having an agnostic system does provide you with more flexibility, it also limits the level of integration that’s possible. Energy management systems that integrate with specific storage systems allow for more accurate monitoring and control because the software components are able to directly communicate with each other. Therefore, like in the case of Span, you’re able to see exactly how much power is left in your battery and control it directly through Span, instead of through the loads or circuits that your battery is powering. 

Some energy management systems also allow for easy integration with devices like EV chargers, backup generators, or thermostats (and again, some are product-specific). The level of integration can also vary by product: for example, while most energy management systems will only allow you to remotely choose which devices your battery is powering, Span has announced that soon its system will allow you to remotely change the rate of charge for your devices from your battery. 

CompanyWhat devices can be easily integrated?Product specific?
SpanSolar, storage, EV chargersSolar + EV charger agnostic, integrates with SolarEdge and Tesla Powerwall battery storage systems
Schneider ElectricSolar, storage, EV chargers, backup generatorsAgnostic, but integrates best with SolarEdge’s Energy Hub inverter for solar + storage
LuminSolar, storageAgnostic
EmporiaSolar, storage, EV chargersSolar agnostic, integrates with Emporia EV Charger + Smart Home Battery System (available Fall 2021)
GeneracSolar, storage, backup generators, two thermostatsSolar agnostic, integrates with Generac PWRcell battery storage system + PWRgenerator (available Spring 2022)

Cost

One of your biggest considerations in comparing energy management systems is likely cost – and for good reason! Installing an energy management system isn’t cheap, but depending on your situation, it could save you money in the long run. Not all companies disclose the cost of their products – as they may vary based on distributor – but, it’s important to note that the prices listed below do not include installation costs. 

CompanyCost (not including installation)
Span$3,500
Schneider ElectricCost of whole system not listed
$300 for Wiser Energy Monitor
Lumin$2,000
EmporiaEnergy monitor with 8 sensors: $110
Energy monitor with 16 sensors: $150
Smart plugs (4): $30
8.2 kWh Smart Home Battery System: $8,600
GeneracNot listed

What about cybersecurity?


Cybersecurity is a major point of concern in all industries that exchange data over the Internet. The clean energy industry is no exception! While cybersecurity is not yet being widely discussed in the context of energy management systems, it is important to consider. Hackers are increasingly targeting operational technology (OT), meaning hardwardware and software that monitors and/or controls devices (like energy management systems). To learn more about why cybersecurity is important for your solar system and how to protect your devices, check out this article

Choosing the right energy management system for you

The actual value of each individual system will vary based on factors like whether you already have solar and storage, if your current electrical panel needs to be replaced, if you live in an area with time-of-use rates, or how big your storage system is in relation to your energy needs. Since your interaction with your device will primarily be in the mobile app, you may also want to take a look at the various interfaces to determine which best suits your needs. To learn more about how to choose a product based on your individual needs, be sure to read our article on evaluating energy management systems

Energy management systems provide the most benefits when you have solar-plus-storage!

If you’re looking to maximize the functionality of your energy management system, you’ll want a solar-plus-storage system. On the EnergySage Marketplace, you’ll get up to seven free, customized quotes from pre-vetted installers, allowing you to find a system that meets your needs at the right price. With an energy management system you may even be able to cut down on installation and design costs and better size your solar-plus-storage system, immediately reducing the payback period of your investment. 

Find out what solar + storage costs in your area in 2021
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About Emily Walker

Emily is the Content Manager & Research Analyst at EnergySage, where she enjoys making energy fun and easy to learn about! She has a background in environmental consulting and has degrees in Environmental Science and Biology from Colby College. Outside of work, Emily is pursuing a Master of Science from Johns Hopkins University in Environmental Science and Policy. She also loves hiking, tending to her collection of houseplants, and trying out new restaurants and breweries whenever possible.

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