Engineer's Product Breakdown: Energy Monitoring Systems

Energy Monitoring Systems for your multi-unit building

Your Engineer
Jahnavi-Sajip
Jahnavi Sajip

Over 30% of American households struggle each month with their power bill. A good energy monitoring system is able to evaluate consumption in a household or even industrial sized building. However, the quality and value offering of the system make a big difference in what sort of savings the consumer will experience.

The right product will see you saving money every month for the indefinite future. The wrong system will set you back several hundred dollars without improving your life at all.

Energy Monitoring Systems Overview

To formulate the reviews below we’ve spent a lot of time studying the energy monitoring systems market. Our objective has been to find the best products possible for buyers looking for quality, affordability, and overall eco-friendliness. The guide below is the product of that research.

We found The Energy Detective Pro 800 Energy Monitor to be the best monitoring system for multi-family building complexes ranging anywhere from 10-50 units.

We came to this conclusion based on the comprehensive nature of the system’s analytics as well as its money-saving potential. The unit is designed for industrial use and is compatible with 800 amp breakers.

In this guide, we explain the strengths and weaknesses of the TED Pro 800. We will also look at eco-friendly and budget-friendly options, and dive into a comprehensive guide that features everything you could need to know about energy monitoring systems.

Read on!

Best in class

The Energy Detective Pro 800

The Energy Detective Pro 800

3-Phase 800 Amp

Pros

  • Data can be viewed on PC or via applications
  • Push notifications available for select data points
  • Customizable user interface
  • Additional equipment is available to make it compatible with solar systems.

Cons

  • A little bit pricey
  • Accuracy concerns for several select data points
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The TED Pro 800 is specifically manufactured to work with multi-tenant buildings or other industrial settings. The system makes use of state of the art technology to monitor when energy costs are at their highest and to send detailed notifications on spikes and malfunctions in real time.

Data collected by this system can be displayed on the computer or on phone apps via customized interfaces that suit the needs of the user. In other words, you are able to prioritize the information that you are given so that the most pressing data points are brought to your attention first.

You can also set custom notification preferences that will alert you if there is a change in rates or some other parameter that you would like to prioritize.

The system is also adaptable. With additions that (unfortunately) come at an upcharge, users are able to get extra features that enhance their overall experience. For instance, if you are using solar panels on your building, you will be able to monitor their effectiveness using this device.

Data is maintained through a cloud-based system where it can be easily accessed wherever you have an internet connection.

And, unlike some other commercial oriented systems, there are no monthly fees. After paying the sticker price, the system is yours outright, making it much easier to get an eventual return on your investment.

In terms of faults, there is little to speak of. The system struggles with accuracy in a few select circumstances. For instance, if you make use of lots of fluorescent lights, the reads may be slightly off relative to what the electric company reports. The difference is not substantial, but because this is a data taking device, every bit counts.

The sticker price for the system is fairly high, but given its capabilities, the cost is more or less par for the course.

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Sense Energy Monitoring System

Sense Energy Monitor with Solar

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Pros

  • Syncs up with smart speakers for voice control
  • Includes data on solar panels and windmills
  • Measures data in terms of kilowatts and dollars and cents
  • Easy to use smart phone app

Cons

  • Electrician required for installation
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The Sense Energy Monitor with Solar is a great single family home unit that can be extended into other housing units via adapters. It is optimal for users that are trying to maximize the eco-friendliness of their lifestyle. Not only does this system provide itemized updates about energy usage in your home, but it is also able to provide detailed analytics on alternative power sources.

This includes solar panels, as well as windmills. Through an app display, the system is able to provide a detailed dollars and cents report not just on how much money you are saving with solar.

A novel aspect of this system is that it syncs up effortlessly with most popular smart speakers, including Alexa. This smart home integration feature allows you to access important data points with the power of your voice.

Additionally, the data is observable via an easy to access phone app that features a user-friendly design most will not have any trouble navigating. Your historical information can be examined based on the day, the month or the year, and will show up both as kilowatts, and as dollars and cents giving you a comprehensive overview over everything you could want to know.

The system is also intuitive. By evaluating electric signatures, as well as the patterns of use, it will be able to create data profiles over specific devices, giving you precise information on how much you use certain appliances, and what it winds up costing you.

 The system is also able to send you handy push notifications directly to your phone. Through these updates, you receive immediate details about important factors like system usage spikes, or even potential problems that might be impacting the effectiveness of your solar panels.

As a final bonus, it can also be installed in roughly thirty minutes, though most people will require assistance from an electrician.

Best Budget Options

Best Budget Pick

Efergy Energy Monitoring System

Efergy Engage Hub Kit

5-channel monitoring

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Ala carte accessories make the system very adaptable
  • Easy to understand data

Cons

  • Data archive shallow relative to other options on the list
  • Apparent customer support problems
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The Efergy Engage Hub Kit is an affordable system that has the benefit of being very malleable. Out of the box, it is an effective means of evaluating the energy consumption of small spaces or buildings. However, with additional sensors and connections purchased separately, its range can be expanded significantly to suit the needs of a larger commercial space.

The data points are a little bit cleaner here than they are in the other two options that we highlighted. Graphs are made to be easy to read and understand which will be handy for users that aren’t used to trying to comprehend all of the different data points provided by systems like The Energy Detective. Measurements are listed as kilowatts.

The system allows you to evaluate energy use on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. The data storage is modest relative to the other systems that we’ve highlighted, but the bargain may make the compromise worth it. It also benefits from a simple installation that (according to the manufacturer) will take an hour or less to complete.

Via separately sold adapters, you can use this system to monitor solar product usage, further enhancing its versatility.

Some users have complained that the company’s customer support is not very good, which can make troubleshooting very complicated. Ultimately though the Efergy Engage Hub performs competitively for a system of its price range.

New Budget Option

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Square D Wiser Energy Home Monitor Solar Edition

Residential Energy Monitoring System

Pros:

  • Mobile app
  • Solar compatability
  • Easy installation
  • Energy budget goals
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Accuracy concerns for several select data points
Request a proposal →
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Energy Monitoring System Buying Guide

Now that you know what Energy Monitoring Systems are the best options, let's talk about how we came to these conclusions. We'll take a look at a few key buying considerations that should make finding the right system for your needs a little bit easier.

Ease of Installation

Many energy monitoring systems advertise that they can be installed with relative ease. The packaging suggests that the do it yourself approach is an appropriate option. Such is often not the case.

More often than not, you will be better of enlisting the services of a certified electrician. This is especially true in the case of multi-family rental units in which you are trying to sync up with a variety of different circuits.

The sophistication of an energy monitoring system often directly correlates with how complicated it is to install. It’s a bit of a catch-22. High-quality systems perform better, but they cost more and feature an additional up-front installation fee.

It ends up being worth it. With professional help, you can be sure that the energy monitoring system will be up and running quicker, and without the risk of potential problems down the line.

Ability to Recognize Appliances

Every appliance releases a unique electric frequency when it is in use. Higher end monitoring systems are able to pick up on that frequency and then identify the appliance that is being used.

It’s not a perfect science. Even state of the art monitoring systems are liable to frequently end up confused—especially when dealing with multiple appliances that operate on similar frequencies. For instance, your hair dryer and curling iron may very well be indistinguishable to the monitor.

Most systems are also limited in that they cannot pick up on appliances that are under 30 watts. This means that most major items will be accounted for, but smaller mainstays, like your phone charger will not be.

Ultimately though, it’s a feature that is useful more often than not. Small errors aside, appliance recognition does take data analytics to a whole new level.

HVAC is As Important as it Gets

Sometimes, systems can be a little bit more complicated than you want them to be. If you only have the bandwidth to consider a certain amount of data, make sure that the system you get is at least able to provide good analytics on the goings on of your HVAC system.

Why? It’s pretty simple. Of everything that happens in a building, HVAC is the most substantial source of controllable power. In fact, heating and cooling account for roughly 40% of a homes annual energy usage.

If the goal is to monitor and reduce energy cost then there is no better way of doing so than to adjust your approach to the HVAC system.

You can then scaffold downwards as you focus on other major sources of energy output: lighting, heavy duty equipment, etc.  It’s great to have plenty of data, but it also makes sense to pay the closest attention to the biggest sources of outgoing energy.

Not to Be Confused With a Single Appliance Monitor

Energy monitor systems take data on an entire household or building. These are not to be confused with systems that plug directly into an individual appliance to take data on it.

These devices are optimal for giving you information on the patterns of a single device. The energy monitoring system, on the other hand, gives a more generalized profile on everything that is happening in a specified area.

Real-Time Cost Recognition

Electric rates fluctuate throughout the day. For instance, if you run your dishwasher in the morning it might cost more than if you decide to run it during the night time. It’s called “peak time” usage.  Over time, the cost of running major appliances during peak time hours can really add up.

Some energy monitoring systems are able to keep a running count of the peak time hours, giving you real-time information about when to run your appliances.

The information can then help you make more informed decisions about when you want to perform certain activities. For example, you may decide that the evening is a better time to run the washing machine as that is when the rates are lowest.

ROI

The goal of an energy monitoring system is to eventually save you money. The question should not be if it will do this, but rather when. If you can find a system that will have given you a return of investment within a year of purchase, you will be in good shape.

Remember that this has to balance out not just against the upfront cost of the system, but also the price of installation, as well as any monthly fees that the manufacturer might demand.

Fortunately, this is an objective that is not terribly difficult to achieve. A high-quality, moderately priced system will be able to save you money at a rate of 15% a month, helping you reach your ROI in six months.

Multi or Single Family Household?

Naturally, this article focuses a little bit more on devices that can be used on multi-tenant homes. However, you do have options. In fact, many systems can work with either. Some options are made to work in single family homes as the default but can be modified for a larger application.

In these instances, the wattage will be of the most importance. You will need to find a system that is compatible with the specific breaker wattage on your building. Alternatively, you may be able to purchase adapters from the company that expands its usefulness. In any case, it is always important to consider your intentions before making your purchase.

User Interface

Most mainstream monitoring systems are now run remotely via phone applications. The Bluetooth compatibility usually makes for a nice, clean user interface that even those with very little experience will be able to navigate.

Because energy monitoring systems are effectively a means of analyzing data, the interface is of particular importance. The easier time you have viewing the monitor's data, the better it will be able to serve you.

However, it is also worth keeping in mind that every system will be a little bit different in how they allow you to store and access your data. For instance, some devices will allow you to store one year’s worth of information. Others may give you an archive of three or more years.

Data accessibility is a small but critical way that products are able to distinguish themselves.

Solar Compatibility

If you’re using solar panels in your home, you may find it worthwhile to consider a system that is capable of incorporating that data into its analytic reports. A solar compatibility feature will allow you to access how effective your panels are.

For example, the system may be able to determine how much your panels are bringing in, how they use the energy, and even how much it’s saving you.

Measurement Display

Most energy monitoring systems will take data based strictly on kilowatt usage. That’s fine if you are an electrician, but the average layperson may not know exactly what to make out of this kind of data.

You can also find energy monitoring systems that take a much more direct dollars and cents approach, telling you the cost of your energy use. For most people, this may be a little bit more enlightening.

Power Source

It’s kind of ironic that you need to worry about the power source of your energy monitoring system, but alas, you do. Some plug right into your power supply, while others are battery monitored. Battery monitored units are often cheaper and easier to install, but they also require more general upkeep.

It ultimately depends on what your needs are. For a personal home unit, a battery may be fine. However, if you are not onsite often, it may be better to have a direct power line.

Is Data Safe?

That’s a good question. It will depend mostly on the way in which your system operates. For example, cloud-based systems have more vulnerabilities than other monitoring options.

There are many problems with cloud-based data protection in general, but for most people, the risk will be minimal. Additionally, most systems allow you to monitor the information that is being uploaded so that you know what data is in circulation.

It’s not a perfect system but it does give you lots of convenience with minimal risks.

Compatibility

Chances are pretty good that most popular energy monitoring systems are going to be compatible with the voltage of your home. However, each unit will have its limitations. Before you finalize a purchase, it’s a good idea to make sure that the energy monitoring system will be able to support the specifications of your building.

Extra Costs

Some energy monitoring systems come with a cost that exceeds what you pay for the hardware and installation. For instance, some will require that you pay extra for their software. Others will demand a monthly archival fee. The extent of these additional costs will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but often enough they sharply undermind the purpose of an energy monitoring system.

Generally, monthly fees are counterintuitive to the goal of saving money on your monthly bills. Makes sense, right? Occasionally, subscription-based services will be worthwhile, but keep in mind that they will cut into your ROI.

Warranty

As with anything, the better the warranty, the better the user experience. Naturally, this is a consideration that will be very relative to each individual manufacturer. Some companies will offer a six-month warranty, while others can extend for years.

Not only do warranties support you in the event of an untimely system failure, but they also give you a hint about how confident the manufacturer feels in the product that they have put out. Generally, the better the product, the bigger the warranty that it comes with.

Why is that? It’s pretty simple. You usually don’t offer to make free repairs on something for several years if you think the product that you put out is likely to need them.

Final Verdict

To track large amounts of data in a sizable space, The Energy Detective Pro 800 will do well to suit your needs. Thanks to the flexibility of the system it can be adjusted to meet the needs of any type of user. This includes people trying to integrate solar into their energy use habits, or just anyone who sees the benefit of a customizable interface.

As you continue your hunt for the perfect energy monitoring system consider your upfront budget, as well as the eventual savings outcome that you hope to achieve. The right system for you will be able to satisfy both needs.

Feel free to consult this guide frequently as you mull the decision over.

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