Do You Really Need a Home Energy Monitor?

Whole-home energy monitors can potentially measure how much electricity your home uses down to the individual circuits and even single devices, thus allowing you to identify ways to save. With electricity rates rising nationwide and climate change driving conversations about consumption, efficiency, and how people get their energy, these monitors have appeal. According to the manufacturers and some of the independent experts we spoke with, many households save an average of nearly 10% on their power bills in the year after installing a monitor, with more engaged people saving up to twice that.

So why, after planning to test these monitors and make a recommendation, we did come away questioning their overall value for our readers? It’s not because they don’t work—we identified three models that we’d suggest to anyone going forward with a purchase. It’s because they may not be necessary. That finding felt like the most urgent information for us to convey. Our conclusion became apparent as source after source outlined simple, tried-and-true steps anyone can take to lower electricity bills without the use of an energy monitor. It came into greater focus as sources emphasized how smart devices, often capable of reporting and limiting their own energy use, could integrate with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, or Google Home to form their own suite of information for both active and automated energy management. With smart tech integrating into more devices and even into circuit breaker panels, energy monitors may become a thing of the past. Here, we aim to help you determine whether a monitor or other energy-saving technology is your best choice today.

Sense Energy Monitor

Sense, one of the earliest monitors available, uses machine learning to identify individual appliances and their electricity usage.

Sense’s monitors employ machine learning—and a million measurements per second—to try to identify individual appliances and their power draw, teasing out their unique “signatures” from your home’s main power feeds. The version that we’d suggest anyone consider first is the company’s base model, but Sense also offers two upgrades, one that adds the ability to measure solar-panel output (if you have panels, of course) and another that can directly monitor two sub-circuits, “perfect for large loads, like HVAC systems and EV chargers or hard-to-detect variable motors, like heat pumps,” as the company’s marketing language says. The aim of the machine learning is simple: although your utility company can tell you how much electricity you use each month, a monitor can give you more granular data on where your electricity is being used, potentially allowing you to identify areas where you can be more efficient (the data comes to you via smartphone and web apps). Sense told us that its customers realize an average savings of roughly 10% in the year after the monitor is installed, with active users often seeing 20%; these figures are in line with what we heard from the makers of other monitors we investigated. But machine learning is very difficult to implement well—which Sense was open about—and though most customers rate the company’s monitors highly, about 15% report that even after lengthy use, their monitor hasn’t been able to ID many devices.

Generac PWRview W2

Generac’s PWRview W2 monitor, based on the earlier Neurio W1, also uses machine learning to identify devices, and it costs less than the Sense.

Generac’s PWRview W2 machine-learning monitor is based on the earlier W1 from Neurio, another pioneer in the field that Generac acquired in 2019. Generac gave savings estimates similar to those that Sense provided when we spoke, again pointing to active users’ ability to cut their bills by as much as 20%. Also like the Sense monitors, the PWRview is agnostic—it can work in almost any electrical panel. And it usually costs less than the Sense devices. As part of Generac’s broader green-energy ecosystem, which includes solar panels and solar-storage batteries, the PWRview may offer the most advantages to people who already use Generac products.

Emporia Gen 2 Vue

Emporia’s Gen 2 Vue monitor doesn’t employ machine learning, but you can add extra sensors to directly measure what up to 16 individual circuits are using.

Unlike the other monitors we’d suggest, Emporia Energy’s Gen 2 Vue monitor doesn’t use machine learning to identify individual electrical loads, instead relying on owner interaction to identify individual loads and potential areas for saving: You go around switching things on and off While watching the monitor’s real-time load measurements and thus figure out how much power, say, your dryer uses versus how much of your microwave consumes. That approach may appeal to you, and the company also offers upgraded models (or the equivalent retrofits) that add eight or 16 circuit-level sensors so that you can directly see what each circuit in your home is using on top of how much power is being drawn off your mains.

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