Energy monitors overview

What you need to know about energy monitors

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Electricity is expensive – and finding ways to cut your usage can save significant money down the line! One way homeowners are starting to take their energy management into their own hands is through energy monitors, devices that provide insight into how much energy you’re using, and when you’re using it. With this information, you can adjust your behavior and ultimately cut down on your electricity costs, all while helping the environment. In this article, we’ll explain some things to consider when evaluating energy monitors. 


Key takeaways


  • Energy monitors provide actionable insights into your energy consumption
  • The detail of monitoring will vary by product but may occur at the full home, circuit breaker, or appliance level
  • Some energy monitor companies estimate that they could save you about nine percent on your annual electricity bill
  • Energy monitors are particularly useful if you’re going solar – to start your solar journey today, visit the EnergySage Marketplace

What is an energy monitor?

Energy monitors, also called consumption monitors, provide detailed information on your electrical energy use. Depending on the monitor, you may be able to track your consumption at the device, circuit, or full home level – all remotely from your mobile device! Your monitoring app will often provide you with additional insights as well, from how to increase your energy efficiency to when to use the most electricity to maximize your savings based on the cost of electricity at different times of the day. 

How do energy monitors work?

Typically, energy monitors sit in or next to your electrical panel (aka breaker box). If you have a smart panel, like Span, monitoring capability will be built in, delivering energy monitoring and insights at the circuit level. However, if you have an add-on energy monitor, it probably comes with sensors. These sensors may clamp onto your service mains – the wires that run between your electric meter and your electrical panel – and “read” your home’s electrical current. They can then either provide an overview of how much electricity your entire home is using, or smarter systems may use machine learning to recognize the “electricity signatures” associated with your home’s appliances to provide device-level monitoring. 

Instead of connecting to service mains, some sensors connect directly to individual circuits, providing circuit level monitoring. Either way, your energy monitor will deliver its findings to your smart phone or computer in the form of actionable insights. 

Household monitors vs. individual appliance monitors


First and foremost, it’s important to distinguish between household energy monitors and energy monitors for individual appliances. Some energy monitors, such as those included in some smart plugs, are used to monitor a single appliance at a time and give you a more detailed look at that particular device. Household monitors, on the other hand, connect to your energy panel or to individual circuits to paint a larger energy-use picture. The major focus of this article is to explain household energy monitors. 

Why would you want an energy monitor?

If you’ve ever read through your electricity bill, you’ve probably realized it doesn’t provide much detail. Generally, your bill will tell you: 

  1. How much electricity you’ve used
  2. How much your utility is charging you for that electricity, plus any other fees 

Unfortunately, that’s about it! Now, let’s say you want to cut your energy use to save money or reduce your carbon footprint. You’ll either have to cut down on your electricity consumption overall–by having a home energy audit, for instance–or try to guess which devices are the heaviest users and when they cost the most money to run, which is easier said than done. 

Energy monitors help by eliminating this guessing game. At the highest level, you’ll be able to understand how much electricity your home is consuming, but many monitors will provide you with even more detailed information, whether at the device or circuit level. Want to see if there are any phantom loads that are consuming electricity, even when powered off? Your monitor could give you this insight so you can ensure all of these devices are unplugged. Unsure if you closed the garage door? Your energy monitoring app could show you when it was last operated. 

Overall, the goal of purchasing an energy monitor is typically to cut your electricity usage and, as a result, to save you money: for example, Sense estimates that the average user of their monitor saves about nine percent on their electric bill

Should you get an energy monitor?

Energy monitors are great devices for understanding your electricity usage – but they’re most valuable when you actually take action based on the information they provide! If you think that you won’t actually use the insight they provide to alter your behavior, an energy monitor might not be the right choice for you. 

Energy monitors can be particularly attractive if you live in an area with time-of-use (TOU) rates, meaning you pay more for electricity at certain times of the day when demand is higher. Some monitoring apps will even provide you with the ability to enter the TOU rates in your area, so they can suggest when to cut down your energy consumption accordingly! For example, it may cost less for you to do laundry or run your dishwasher during the day than at night!

You may also more strongly consider purchasing an energy monitor if you have a solar or solar-plus-storage system. Some energy monitors will come with additional current sensors that clamp onto your solar wires, allowing you to track how much energy your solar panels are generating, and how much electricity you’re consuming. With this information, you can increase your electricity usage as needed during the day to pull less energy from the grid – or your storage system – at night. 

Considerations when comparing your options

For many homeowners, purchasing an energy monitor is a smart decision – but your upfront costs and long term savings will largely be determined by which product you choose! Not all energy monitors are created equal, so we’ll explain a few factors you’ll want to consider when comparing your options: 

Appliance recognition

As we’ve mentioned, some energy monitors are able to use built-in artificial intelligence to learn specific device signatures of your appliances. Each appliance has a unique way of using electricity. Over time, these energy monitors will be able to determine which appliances are running based on how they are using your electricity. This “machine learning” period can take anywhere from weeks to months, which can be frustrating if you want to start monitoring at the appliance level immediately. Ultimately, an energy monitor with appliance recognition will be able to make quick judgments on the appliances that are detected and, via your monitoring app, report on specific information and actions you can take on those appliances. 

It’s important to remember that not all monitors have this feature, and even for those that do the technology doesn’t always work perfectly. It’s usually easy for the monitor to detect differences between a TV and a refrigerator, but devices that use electricity in similar ways (think heating devices, like a toaster and a curling iron) may be more of a challenge. 

Real-time cost tracking

Some, but not all, home energy monitors allow you to track the cost of your energy consumption in real-time. Real-time cost tracking will allow you to watch as your electricity consumption and costs increase or decrease. You’ll also be able to see and understand the effects of turning devices on and off – such as keeping your TV on in the background. This feature can be particularly important for maximizing cost savings. 

Mobile apps and notifications

You’ll want to make sure that any energy monitor you choose has a mobile app component – this app should send you notifications about things such as which appliances are running, tips for further savings, and warnings on abnormal appliance behavior, which could help you proactively replace a malfunctioning appliance. If you want to be notified about a specific issue with your electricity use, be sure to confirm that the product you’re choosing has that functionality. 

Solar ready monitor options

As we’ve explained, one of the best times to purchase an energy monitor is if you have already or are planning to install solar. If you fall into one of these categories, you’ll want to make sure that the monitor you choose is solar ready, meaning it can monitor your solar electricity production. Energy monitors with this option allow you to see how much energy your solar panels are generating, when they are generating it, and how you’re using this energy.

Installation

Unless you’re very familiar with your electrical panel, we recommend consulting an electrician for your energy monitor installation. Many home energy monitors market themselves as do-it-yourself, but any project involving attaching a device to your electrical panel will come with shock hazards. It’s true that bringing an electrician to your house for the installation will increase the total cost of the equipment, but once installed, the devices allow for significant savings.

Major energy monitor companies

Many companies now offer energy monitors, but here are a few major ones you’ll want to be aware of:

  • Sense’s Home Energy Monitor: appliance recognition, real-time monitoring, & solar ready
  • Smappee’s Smappee: appliance recognition & real-time monitoring
  • Efergy’s Engage: solar ready & real-time monitoring
  • Emporia Energy’s Vue Smart Home Energy Monitor: solar ready, real-time monitoring & circuit-level monitoring

For our reviews of these top products, be sure to check out our Energy Monitor Buyer’s Guide.

How do energy monitors integrate with energy management systems?

Energy monitors are one of the two major components of energy management systems – meaning you’ll need a monitoring component if you want a true energy management system! The added benefit of an energy management system over just an energy monitor is the control aspect. Let’s say you want to take action on the valuable insight your monitor is providing: with an energy management system, you can complete that action directly from your mobile device, making it much easier to adjust your behavior accordingly. You may also be able to set your system to perform these actions automatically, so you don’t even have to lift a finger to lower your energy consumption (and costs!). To learn more about energy management systems, read our articles breaking down what you’ll need to know. 

Start saving energy by going solar today!

If you’re looking to reduce your energy usage – whether that be to lower your carbon footprint, to save money, or both – the best way to do so is to install a solar-plus-storage system! You’ll be able to significantly reduce the electricity you’re pulling from the grid, especially if you have an energy monitor showing you how much energy you’re generating and consuming. On the EnergySage Marketplace, you’ll receive custom quotes from pre-vetted solar installers, allowing you to compare your options and find a system that best fits your needs. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *