The Sense Energy Monitor plus solar - is it worth it?
If your home uses a lot of electricity, you might benefit from installing the Sense Home Energy Monitor. Sense is a machine-learning smart home device that attaches to the wires inside you home’s electrical breaker panel and immediately begins to track and identify the power used by your appliances and devices.
The Sense monitor is designed to help you find problems and adjust your usage patterns to save you money over the long run, but Sense plus solar opens up a whole new world. Using Sense to track your solar panels production can show you how your solar is offsetting your usage, and someday may even help you automatically turn on high-wattage appliances only when your solar system is making enough energy to run them
Here’s a look at the present and future benefits of combining the Sense home energy monitor with a solar installation.
How Sense Home Energy Monitor works
The Sense monitor is a little box that lives inside the cover of your home’s electrical panel. While you can DIY the initial setup process, it’s absolutely not recommended unless you’re a pro. Most people will want to get a licensed electrician to install Sense for them.
The Sense monitor is used to detect electrical current coming from your utility company into your house. If you have solar panels installed, Sense has an additional port that can be hooked up to the wires coming into your main panel from your solar inverter.
When attached in a Sense-plus-solar setup, the device looks like this:
Once the device is properly hooked up, Sense begins to measure the current flowing through your wires. As each of your appliances turns on and off, Sense records the power they draw, and over time, begins identifying devices individually, based on how the things in your house match the power usage profiles Sense has gathered from devices in thousands of other homes. Sense can detect things like your water heater, TV, HVAC units, and more.
The Sense unit comes with a 2.4 GHz WiFi antenna to send the data from your electrical panel to Sense’s cloud server and your smartphone.
How Sense works with solar power
In addition to being able to recognize your individual devices and track your real-time power consumption, Sense can detect the exact amount of energy your solar panels are generating at any given time, as well. Sense apps for Android, iOS, and the web offer this real-time data in a fun “bubble” display.
These real-time displays can quickly inform you which of your home’s appliances is drawing power, and how much power they draw relative to other devices. The addition of the solar sensors also shows you how much solar energy you are generating at one time.
The data gathered by the Sense monitor can also provide a chart of your energy usage over time, showing you energy usage profiles on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
Advantages of Sense over other solar monitoring
One thing we’ve heard from solar owners who have installed the Sense monitor is it does a much better job of tracking solar production on a real-time basis than some other solutions. One person we asked said they preferred Sense monitoring over their Enphase app for tracking solar production, because Sense does so immediately, whereas Enphapse only offers updates every 15 minutes.
Sense also tracks both production and consumption of electricity, so you know whether your appliances are drawing more or less power than your solar panels are making. And Sense can be tied into Smart Home technologies using an API or IFTTT (if this, then that), allowing people who are interested in home automation to make their home more efficient by automating when their devices operate.
Disadvantages of Sense
The first thing about Sense that comes to mind when talking disadvantages is the price. The standard retail price is $349 from Amazon, although Sense offers monthly payments of around $20. Unless you’re hoping to uncover a lot of wasted electricity by using Sense, it might not be worth it, financially speaking.
The other disadvantage is that Sense requires patience, and sometimes doesn’t detect always-on appliances like computers, WiFi routers, and more. It can take a month or more for Sense to find some home appliances and devices (although solar tracking works right away), and some users have complained about Sense detecting the same TV dozens of times, or recognizing one of their A/C units but not another identical one for a different part of their house.
Some people have overcome the problem of Sense not auto-identifying their devices by purchasing TP-Link HS110 smart plugs with energy monitoring and plugging devices directly into them.
Is Sense a smart choice for solar owners?
In short: Sense is a home energy monitoring system that can tell you how much electricity devices in your home use and help you find problems with power consumption. If you have solar, Sense also provides real-time monitoring of your panels’ production. Using a Sense monitor can also enable smart home integration and reduce your electric bill by triggering actions at certain times and under certain conditions.
Pretty simply: unless you’re looking to pinpoint the cause of a major electrical issue, the Sense monitor will likely not be worth it from a financial standpoint. If your solar panels didn’t already come with monitoring software, as most do, the Sense will do that for you with aplomb!
But so much of the value of the Sense isn’t measured in financial terms. If you feel like you could benefit from accurate monitoring of solar panel production and power consumption, to help you see where your money’s going, and you like the idea of tinkering with home automation, maybe the Sense is for you.
And the biggest reason Sense is a smart choice is the continued success of the company can only lead to better things. The promise of software is that it keeps improving, one day interfacing with many aspects of your smart home and allowing all sorts of neat integrations. If you’re a data lover, get a Sense monitor and you’ll have access to tons of good data about your home and your energy usage!
Author: Ben Zientara | Solar Policy Analyst and Researcher
Ben is a writer, researcher, and data analysis expert who has worked for clients in the sustainability, public administration, and clean energy sectors.