Sense Energy Monitor Review: An Overview of Your Home’s Electricity Use


Sense is a bright orange box that sits in your breaker box and gives a detailed overview of your home’s power consumption. The whole system is pretty smart and luckily no monthly fees. But he learns very slowly, and that might frustrate you.

Meaning ($ 299 on Amazon) works by listening electromagnetically to the current flowing along the two hot wires that connect your electric meter to your circuit breakers. By measuring current flow a million times per second, Sense can observe load changes in precise detail and, based on a machine learning database, attempt to identify the footprint of different devices. from the noise they generate.

That means it can tell you exactly how much power the different devices in your home are using, and it does all of that without requiring sensors or smart plugs on each device. Or at least, it’s the simple theory that disguises a very complex process.

Updated July 1, 2021 to report that Sense has added another new feature to the Sense energy monitoring system. The Sense app now tracks a home’s carbon consumption in real time and offers a forward-looking view that predicts carbon intensity (the amount of carbon dioxide emitted to generate a specific unit of power) for homeowners. Sense can schedule high-energy tasks like doing laundry, washing dishes, or recharging their electric vehicle during times of low carbon emissions. You can find more information on this feature on the Sense website.

Updated October 25, 2020 to report that Sense has added new Bending sensors ($ 50) that can be added to an existing Sense energy monitor to track energy use in larger homes (including those with 400 amp split-duty service). The new sensors can also track a home’s back-up generator, alert when the generator takes over in the event of a power failure, and monitor the home’s energy use.

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The main Sense unit that you install on your main electrical panel.

Installation

The installation is quite easy and you can do it yourself if you are not afraid to open your electrical panel to expose the main electrical lines entering your home from your utility. Power for the Sense unit can be plugged directly inside the breaker box – just be sure to turn off the power before doing so. But for the record, Sense says “the the safest route is for a licensed electrician to install. “

The device detects the flow of electricity through a few sensors that surround the two service cables coming from your utility. Sense offers a slightly more expensive model ($ 349) for homes with solar systems. It comes with two additional sensors that measure the electricity coming from your panels, so it can compare the amount of electricity produced by your solar panels against the amount of electricity your home uses. But it depends on whether your solar inverter is connected to your circuit breaker, rather than being connected directly to your utility meter.

Sense must be added to your Wi-Fi network, and Sense provides an external Wi-Fi antenna if the signal is too weak inside the metal breaker box. Installing the external antenna is straightforward if your box is surface mounted – just run the wire through one of the existing holes in the box. it will be a little more complicated if the box is recessed in the wall, but the whole is generally well thought out.

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Sense sensors attach to the main power cables entering your circuit breaker.

Detect my electricity consumption

It’s pretty exciting to first launch the Sense app and monitor your home’s electricity consumption in real time. You will likely spend a lot of time in the app during the first few days watching the system react when you turn devices on and off.

I quickly learned, for example, that an old set of incandescent light fixtures in my bathroom were drawing an impressive 180 watts of power, which is in contrast to the LED lighting in the rest of my house.

But maybe the most interesting part is everything that still attracts power. The so-called phantom power that your home consumes all the time, day and night without interruption. These are the electronics on standby, your oven clock, power adapters that recharge the batteries, etc.

My constant consumption is 299 watts, remarkably close to the 288 watts consumed on average in all Sense homes, and trying to reduce it can become a real game. After all, it costs me around $ 30 per month and is a little less than the average. third of the electricity consumption of my whole house. It would be nice to reduce it.

As Sense gets to know your home, it begins to spot specific device power models. This process takes at least a week to begin, and so far it has identified nine things, including my refrigerator, my water heater, my rice cooker, those energy-guzzling bathroom lights, my oven, and the oven. . But he didn’t identify anything else and it’s frustrating.

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Electricity consumption data displayed by the Sense app.

It sounds incredibly simple. When I turn on a light I see the power consumption increase, so why can’t Sense figure it out? Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this: Sense’s support forums have a lot of people complaining about slow discovery.

At CES in January, I had the chance to sit down with Sense CEO Mike Phillips and ask him questions about it. He also wishes it was faster and explains that it’s a lot more complicated than it looks.

First, the only thing Sense can see is everything together. He doesn’t have the knowledge I have, like when I turn on a light or program the microwave. To me, it’s obvious that these things are happening, but it’s not at all obvious to Sense. It should include individual models from the full energy consumption of my house.

Phillips told me it was a bit like listening to a room full of people talking and trying to figure out what each is saying. At first, it’s just noise. Some devices have telltale fingerprints – the equivalent of, say, a distinctive accent in a room full of people – that make them easier to spot, but most aren’t that easy to spot.

To facilitate this wait, Sense recently added compatibility with TP-Link Kasa and Wemo Insight smart sockets. These are devices that plug into your wall and then your devices plug into it.

These smart outlets can turn power on and off, but they can also perform their own power consumption measurements and can communicate directly with Sense. If you’ve only plugged in one device, like a microwave, you can tag it as such in Sense. It will also add the device signature to its database which is shared among all Sense users.

Device data

At its most basic level, Sense will provide a running total of the amount of electricity your home is using. But things get more interesting once it starts detecting devices.

Sense will track usage at the device level and provide a handy summary showing how much each contributes to your monthly energy consumption, the cost of the electricity it consumes (as long as you’ve provided the app with your price electricity) and a graph of how many times per day it lights up.

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Another view of electricity consumption data on the Sense app.

You can also set up notifications to appear when a device turns on or off, and you can add a custom alert when something is on or off for more than a certain time. For example, I have an alert set if my refrigerator is turned off for more than an hour.

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You can set up custom alerts to notify you when devices are operating for unusually long periods of time.

Smart home integration

While I was testing it, Sense added Google Assistant integration to its existing Amazon Alexa skill. Both offer the ability to test Sense via voice commands, such as “Is my washing machine on?” Or “How much electricity do I use” or “How much solar energy do I generate. “

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You can integrate Sense with various smart home devices.

Conclusion

Despite the frustrating pace of automated discovery, the Sense unit is still very useful. With a little manual detective work, you’ll be able to figure out what a bunch of devices are using in your home and where all that phantom power is going.

It has the potential to save you money month after month with lower utility bills, and it should. It’s hard to justify the $ 299 price tag otherwise.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about Sense is who he could become. More users means more data and better device discovery. And that could come from much more advanced notifications, such as not only telling you something is turning on or off, but notifying you of potential faults that develop before they turn into costly nightmares.

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