Sense: Beyond What Your Utility Tells You

Smart meters from your utility can be a useful tool for saving energy in your home, but Sense is an even smarter option.

Getting smart about energy use

You may be using smart meter data from your utility to track your energy usage. Maybe you’ve wondered how using Sense is different. In this article, we’ll explore how utility smart meters work. What does your utility know about your home’s energy usage and what are they sharing with you? And what does Sense bring to the picture?

The basic analog/digital meter

The basic electric meter (think spinning disc or barebones digital readout) tracks energy usage, but has to be read manually by the utility company who sends a meter reader to physically look at it or estimates based on past usage. This is very expensive and time consuming for the utility, but the real issue is that consumers are only given insight at the month level. This lack of granularity means homeowners have little to no idea how to reduce their energy usage (short of simply not using electricity). Eventually there came a better way: the “smart meter.”

The smart meter

These meters function like basic analog or digital meters in that they measure how much power is being used at the whole-home level. The main distinction is that they are able to communicate wirelessly with the utility provider via radio frequency (RF). This offers several advantages to the utility:

  • Eliminates the need to manually read meters
  • Provides more accurate billing through improved meter accuracy
  • Allows the utility to better predict and balance electric loads and generation
  • Enables dynamic pricing based on electricity demand

In some cases, smart meter data can be made available to the homeowner through a utility company’s website or app, and can provide some insight into how much energy is being used, oftentimes at the daily or hourly level, but sometimes even down to the minute. This can be helpful when you’re trying to learn more about your electrical usage than a simple bill at the end of the month can provide. But, while they’re an improvement over traditional meters, even the most advanced smart meters still have some limitations:

  • Not real time. Even for the smart meters that provide minute-level insights, this granularity can only get you so far. You’ll be able to see what used power minutes ago, but you won’t see your usage in real time. A more helpful reading would show instantaneous total-usage readings, so you can turn on a light or your hair dryer and see exactly how much power it’s using right away. You can’t manage what you can’t measure!
  • Data access. Smart meters belong to your utility company, and so does the data they generate. Some utilities provide access, but not without a few hurdles. While more utilities are beginning to offer customers mobile and web apps to view usage, the data is limited by the resolution of the meter, and how the meter transmits that data through to the apps, and the app’s design may not be user-friendly enough to provide real value.

The “smarter” meter

There is a smarter solution for your home’s energy: Sense. Like an electric meter, Sense monitors the energy use of your entire home. But it goes further, providing real-time energy insights by measuring electrical usage 1 million times per second. Sense then uses this data to “disaggregate” your energy usage to identify individual devices. It creates this intelligence by “listening” to the unique electrical signatures of the devices plugged into your home. You can learn more about how it works here.

Sense fills a gap in understanding how our homes use energy, and it works on the premise that data should help people reduce their energy use and thus their energy costs. Because of its real-time capabilities, you can monitor your usage in real time on the Sense app, seeing exactly how much power a device is using. Turn the TV or a light on and you can see how much energy you’re using, instantly, right on the Power Meter. With this understanding, you can:

You can also see, at a glance, your total second-by-second usage and understand this usage estimates in dollars or euros so you can determine potential cost savings if you were to change how you use a device. Maybe that pool pump doesn’t need to run 24/7? Maybe you should upgrade that ailing fridge? The app makes it convenient to track these costs by day, week, month, or billing cycle so you have thorough insight to make better decisions.

Something users find helpful is being able to track historical usage — all the way back to the day Sense was installed — to understand consumption trends and visualize conservation progress. You can even set goals within the app and get real-time notifications when you achieve them. Notifications can also help you keep track of key usage milestones and get warnings if Sense detects a potentially dangerous situation, like an oven that’s been left on too long, or a refrigerator that hasn’t cycled on in a while. 

The Sense app also helps users identify their “Always On” loads. Also referred to as “vampire loads,” these are the devices that continuously draw some amount of power, even when not in use. Examples are products with integrated clocks (microwaves, coffeemakers) or those devices that go into sleep or standby mode instead of being completely powered down (TVs, Cable box/DVRs, PCs). How much can these small amounts can really add up to? A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the energy use from Always On devices across the US accounts for 23% of power consumption in the average household, or about a quarter of any given electricity bill. Our own research confirms this. By using the Sense app, you can see how much your Always On load is costing you and take steps to figure out what the culprits might be.

Smart home + smart energy

Sense doesn’t just monitor your energy use, it also plays nice with a range of other smart products like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Philips Hue, and smart plugs from TP-Link and Belkin Wemo for instant detection and remote device control. If your home has solar power, Sense can integrate with it so you can see usage and solar production all in one place, helping you to plan your consumption for when your solar is at peak production. And if you want to geek out with solar data, or any other usage data, you can easily export it via the Sense web app. These are tools that amplify your ability to save energy, an area where a typical smart meter just can’t compete. Sense also benefits from active user groups, like the Sense Community and Sense Saves, where users share how they’re leveraging their data for savings.

While some smart meters and utility apps can tell you the amount of energy you’re using hour-by-hour and sometimes even minute-by-minute, that answer may not be detailed enough to guide real conservation efforts. It comes down to data: Do you want to know how much one device is using over another? Will your utility provide instant readings when you turn a device on or off? Can you track consumption over time? Can your utility help you get more value from your other devices, like smart bulbs and smart plugs? Can you get alerts when your bill reaches a certain threshold or when a device has been left on for too long? Sense provides these energy consumption insights, and more.

While the Sense Home Energy Monitor is, at present, the best option for granular energy insights, the future looks bright. We recently announced a partnership with Landis+Gyr, a world leader in electrical infrastructure, to integrate the Sense app with their advanced meter hardware.

Get Sense, with a 120-day money back guarantee, to start making smarter decisions about the energy you’re paying for. 

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