The Sense Energy Monitor is an awesome learning tool… but not perfect.

We fully electrified our house last fall – replacing gas heat and appliances with electric – and also did a major electrical upgrade. To see it all in action I bought a simple $300 device that attaches to your electrical panel and transmits data wirelessly to an app on your phone.

I’ve now been using this app – called the Sense Energy Monitor – for three months, and find it both awesome and frustrating. I have no affiliation with this company but think they’re doing good stuff and hope they succeed.

At this point I’ve stopped checking the app compulsively and just use it for two specific features: 1) to see our overall daily and weekly electricity usage, and 2) to see how much solar is on the grid in real time so I can charge our cars at the cleanest time possible (lowest carbon emissions).

The whole experience has been very enlightening, and I would recommend this device (and app) to anyone who wants to learn more about electricity and how your home consumes it. Note that you should definitely have a professional electrician install it, as your electric panel has dangerous live wires inside.

First, here’s some sample screen shots from the app:

Now, here’s my thoughts on the app… what’s great and what’s frustrating:

The Good

It shows you exactly how much electricity most of your household devices consume. No big surprise that our electric cars and dryer pull the most juice, I already knew that. But now I know exactly how much almost everything in our house pulls when its on, info which is useful and fascinating. Our dishwasher uses hardly any electricity, while the tea kettle consumes a huge amount – four times as much as our toaster – but only for the short time it’s running.

It lets you view your past electrical usage by device by the day, week and month. Our wifi router (always on) pulls fifteen watts continuously, which annoyingly adds up to 11 kWh per month, or about six times as much as our microwave uses (our microwave and washing machine are tied at about 2kWh per month).

It lets you input your utility’s electricity rates, so you can see costs per device by the day, week or month. And if you’re on a time-of-use plan like me, you can input the time-of-day rate breakdowns and save money by moving your biggest discretionary loads (charging, dryer etc) to an off-peak time.

It pulls in the CAISO real-time supply data for California’s grid. So you can see right in the app what percentage of your current consumption is getting powered by renewables (solar, wind, hydro etc) vs fossil fuel (gas), and also the carbon intensity of your consumption over time. This same info is available here on the web, but is much easier to quickly check and correlate on the Sense app.

It gives you a more tangible, real-life sense of the numbers you hear about electricity. Before installing this app I had some piecemeal conception of these numbers (watts, amps, volts, kilowatts vs kilowatt hours). But now it’s really come together, because I can follow the juice as it comes off my panel and gets consumed or stored (in batteries) by different devices. One day I even had an aha moment: ‘watts = amps x volts.’ That’s something I should have known my whole life from seeing the formula over and over. But this app made it real.

The Frustrating

It can’t identify a couple of the biggest electricity-consuming devices in my house. For example my heat pump hot water heater or my induction range. Instead, it categorizes them as “other,” or miscategorizes them as other appliances, which makes it impossible to get a full and clear picture of our electricity usage.

It works based on artificial intelligence and won’t let you help it. It monitors electrical consumption via sensors on your mains (at the top of your panel) and then tries to match patterns with the unique consumption signatures of the many devices it already has in its database. But many appliances have similar signatures, or different modes of operation with different signatures, so the app struggles to identify them. And it won’t let you just tell it what’s on, so you can’t help its algorithm.

It doesn’t support 220/240 volt smart plugs, which could positively identify the biggest loads. It does support 110 volt smart plugs (I used Kasa), which helps it identify lots of devices much faster. But since the 240 volt circuits are your biggest consumers of juice, not supporting a smart plug for them leaves a lot in the grey zone, preventing you from getting insight into a huge chunk of your consumption (for example my dryer and induction range).

Is This The Future?

Some day, we may all have an app that shows us the energy flowing through our house and also allows us to manage it. But given the primitive/dumb state of most electrical equipment (even new installations today), and the lack of mandated standards for this data, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Meantime, systems like Sense Energy Monitor will continue to proliferate, improve and become easier to use. They’ll get built into electrical panels (or your meter) so you don’t need an electrician to install it. The AI identification engines will improve. And the software will get more integrated into control systems (HomeKit etc) so you can use it to manage, not just monitor, your electricity usage for cost and climate savings.

In the meantime, if you just want to geek out and go deeper on what’s really happening inside your home’s ‘electrical network,’ I highly recommend trying this right now, it’s fascinating. And the more of your home is electrified, the more worthwhile it is.

The Sense Energy Monitor device sitting at the bottom of my load panel.

Leave a Reply

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