saving energy with energysage part 2

Saving energy with EnergySage, part 2: Consumption monitoring

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This post is the second in our series about how to save on your energy bills even when you’re spending more time at home, as the entire EnergySage team is, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Here’s the first.) Continue to check our blog for more ideas for how you can take control of your energy bills in the coming weeks

Welcome to another installment in Saving Energy with EnergySage! Now that you know the two factors that influence how much you pay on your monthly electricity bills–your energy usage and the rate your utility charges for electricity–now you can start to more effectively track how your electricity bills change month over month, and begin to take actions to reduce the size of your electricity bills. 

To more effectively manage your bills, it will be useful to better understand your energy usage day-to-day, and even hour-to-hour. Here are a few ways you can monitor your consumption:

The existing approach to consumption monitoring

At present, you likely only see how much electricity you’ve used each month at the end of the month when you receive a bill from your electric utility. While this all-in number is useful for tracking larger trends, such as demonstrating how your consumption shifts with the seasons or even from year-to-year, seeing only a single number per month fails to convey where exactly your electricity is going. This, in turn, makes it harder to know what to change in order to decrease your bills; to be able to effectively reduce your spending on electricity, you need to have a more in-depth understanding of how and when you’re using electricity, and where that energy is going in your home. 

The new approach to consumption monitoring

There are three separate ways to get better insights into your daily or hourly electricity usage: whole-home monitoring, appliance-level monitoring, and circuit-level monitoring. 

Whole-home consumption monitoring

In many parts of the country, your utility may have already installed a “smart meter” at your home. In fact, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, as of the end of 2017, half of all electricity meters in the country were smart meters. 

Your electricity meter is how your utility knows how much electricity you’ve used each month. The transition to smart meters accomplishes two things: first, it automates the process of sending usage data to your utility so you no longer need meter-readers to walk or drive through your neighborhood to take readings from every household’s electricity meter; and, second, it provides a much higher level of granularity to usage data. In fact, many smart meters are able to track your usage on 15- or even 5-minute intervals. So for the 52 percent of households with smart meters in the US, you should be able to log in to your utility account and see a near real-time look at your consumption.  

If your utility has not yet installed a smart meter at your home, there are several companies that have developed technology that provides effectively the same service. These companies–including Sense, Neurio and Emporia to name a few–provide devices that monitor your entire home’s consumption and software that can determine what the specific loads in your home are to give a sense of how much electricity you’re using and where you’re using it in real-time. 

Appliance-level consumption monitoring

If you want to get very detailed information about specific appliances in your home, one option is to purchase technology called “smart plugs”. These smart plugs sit between the power cord at the end of an appliance and your socket, and are wi-fi enabled, sending info about your appliance’s energy consumption straight to an app. The cool thing about smart plugs is that they are often also voice-enabled, meaning you can ask Alexa or Google to turn on or off a certain appliance.

Circuit-level consumption monitoring

Finally, the highest level of resolution you can get into your overall energy usage comes in the form of circuit-level consumption monitoring. There are a couple of companies that currently provide this type of technology, namely Span and Lumin. This type of monitoring is installed either directly on or next to your electrical panel and provides consumption monitoring for each individual circuit in your home. 

Circuit-level monitoring provides three key benefits: 1) it offers the highest level of insight into consumption from individual parts of your home with a single technology; 2) the apps allow you to track and turn on or off individual circuits in your home (say if you forgot to turn off an electric range top, you could do it in the app; and 3) they are ideal for pairing with energy storage, since circuit-level monitoring technology allows you to decide in real-time what to power with your battery. 

Consumption monitoring and solar

Another way to monitor your energy consumption is through solar inverter apps. All of the leading residential solar inverter companies–SolarEdge, Enphase, Fronius and SMA–have consumption monitoring technology built-in to their inverters or available as an add-on. These apps monitor consumption in much the same way as utility smart meters do: they provide a higher level of insight into your home’s overall energy consumption, but won’t tell you what individual appliances use. (Though you may be able to get a sense for that if you closely monitor the app after turning on your dishwasher, for instance.)
But solar inverter apps don’t just track your consumption; they also track the production from your solar panels, as well as providing estimates of your net energy consumption by hour, day and month, showing you in real-time how much you are saving by having solar panels. For an estimate of how much solar can save you over the next twenty years, check out the free-to-use EnergySage Solar Calculator. And if you’re ready to take the next step and receive custom, online-quotes from local solar companies, register today for an account on the EnergySage Marketplace.

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About Spencer Fields

Spencer is the Content & Research Manager at EnergySage, where he writes about all things energy. Prior to joining EnergySage, he spent five years at Synapse Energy Economics, providing environmental, economic and policy analysis for public interest groups. Spencer has degrees in Environmental Studies and Hispanic Studies from Brown University, meaning when he's not in the office you can find him outside or traveling somewhere to work on his Spanish.

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