Everything you need to know about smart electrical panels for your home
You’re probably familiar with your home’s electrical panel. You might not know exactly what each switch does, or how the panel works. But the panel likely looks just like every panel you’ve ever used. That’s because they haven’t had any big changes or improvements in a very long time. But that’s about to change!
Smart electrical panels aren’t another “internet of things” gimmick. They’re impressive upgrades to one of your home’s essential features. And they’re making the modern home more efficient and powerful than ever before.
What is a smart electrical panel?
A smart electrical panel is a power management panel built directly into your home's wiring and breaker structure. They optimize energy storage, improve load management, and offer insights into power consumption. They connect to a smartphone and offer easy monitoring and control.
The surface of the smart panel breakers will look very familiar. You’ll see switches associated with different sections of the home that permit electricity to flow. The real magic with these smart panels is what’s going on underneath the traditional breaker.
Under the existing circuit breakers are secondary smart circuit breakers. These smart circuit breakers monitor your usage, energy load, solar energy inputs, battery outputs, and connect the panel to your smartphone. These same breakers can also throttle or permit energy load to the home. This is the first time this level of information and control has been available to homeowners!
Let’s break down the smart energy benefits these panels are now offering.
Smart Panel Load Management with Solar
Smart panels really start to shine when paired with solar and battery storage systems. First, a little 101 on energy production, storage, and the grid.
When your home is energized with solar, power is passed from the panels, to an inverter, to the home’s electrical panel and finally to the home. Excess power is sent to battery storage. And excess power beyond storage is sent to the grid usually as part of a net metering arrangement with your utility company.
During a power outage, your panels, battery, and home become a “mini grid”. In this situation power is sent from the panels to the battery and from the battery to the home. But this presents a problem. The battery, like all systems, has limits.
The battery can only accept so much power at once. And can only deliver so much power at once too. Most battery systems can accept and deliver between 5 and 7 kWh during a blackout. When too much power is sent from the panels to the battery, the solar system is required to turn off so as to not overload the battery. And when too much power is pulled, the battery system is overdrawn and it shuts down.
These limitations are why battery installations require you to take one of two routes.
1) Install fewer batteries and only support critical loads.
2) Install more batteries and manage full capacity.
This can be the difference between several batteries even for typical sized homes.
When homeowners opt into fewer batteries, they have to choose which breakers are going to be considered top priority. This may be items like the HVAC, refrigeration, and the Wi-Fi. During a power outage only those breakers deemed top priority receive power. Changing which breakers are "priority" cannot be done without the help of an electrician.
Smart panels let you have the best of both worlds. You can use fewer batteries but have the increased flexibility more batteries would offer.
Smart panels let you direct and manage energy load from your phone. Most smart panels work on a “virtual panel” platform. You typically organize these panels into “critical” , “nice to have” and “nonessential” panel groups.
- Critical: HVAC, refrigeration, garage door, and perhaps Wi-Fi.
- Nice to have: Primary living space lights, the stove, and maybe kid’s bedrooms.
- Nonessential: Appliances, outside lights, and basement lights.
In the case of a power outage the smart panel will look at your secondary power options and energize what you have chosen as being most critical. Exactly how you prioritize the virtual panels is up to you! Everyone’s living circumstances are different. And even your own circumstances will change.
Normally, you might prioritize the kid’s bedroom lights. But today they’re with their grandparents! Right from your phone you can reprioritize those rooms lower and extend your secondary power’s availability.
The smart panel app will even give you insights into what sort of impact these adjustments will make. Turning off “this breaker” might give you an additional two hours of available power. Whereas turning off “that breaker” would only give you an additional twenty minutes.
The smart panel empowers you to make informed decisions about your secondary power that’s never been possible.
With this sort of optimization around your backup battery system, efficiency is the rise. A smart panel can often make a smaller secondary power source go farther and do more. This means fewer batteries, with more control and impact.
Improving Load and Usage Management with Smart Panels
Utility costs get higher every year. And we’re also being billed with increasingly complex usage schedules. With a smart panel you can stop trying to outrun the utility company and optimize your home’s energy usage for more affordable pricing schedules.
Maybe from 5:00pm to 7:00pm your energy usage spikes. The kids are home, you’re home from work. And everything is on. With smart scheduling you can direct the panel to pull from your battery storage during this time to avoid prime-time utility rates. As the kids go to bed and the house winds down, you can switch away from battery power and maintain your reserve.
Power Consumption Insights
Some estimates suggest that nearly a third of a home’s energy consumption is wasted. Whatever your actual electricity waste is, it’s difficult to identify and reduce unnecessary usage.
Smart panels make usage reduction much easier with reports and intelligent insights delivered directly to your smartphone. These reports and insights help you compare rooms against each other. And the app will even compare your data to previous usage history.
Sudden spike in the kitchen that wasn’t there last month? Maybe you’ve got a power-hungry appliance on your hands. Is the office using twice as much power as it used to? Let’s make sure the space heater is running only when the office is being used.
All of this information and control is managed from your phone. You’re given the information you need to make informed decisions. And you’re given the power to make a meaningful change.
Some frequently asked questions around smart panels:
If you have any specific questions, please feel free to give the experts at SolarUnion a call! Here are some common questions you might have had.
How long do smart electrical panels last?
Smart electrical panels are very new. But manufacturer warranties are typically seen to be set around 10 years from installation. It’s too soon for accurate long-term lifespan estimates to be accurate. But with the right warranty you will be covered for a decade.
How are smart panels installed?
Smart electrical panels are installed just like traditional panels. You’ll need to hire a certified electrician or work with the manufacturer for safe and reliable installation. The additional features the panel offers require no special installation and can be set up via smartphone.
Are smart panels outdoor resistant?
Most smart panels systems are weather resistant and are suitable for outdoor breaker box installations.
What brands of smart panels are available?
We recommend the SPAN smart panel. You’ll also find smart panel options from Lumin and Leviton.
How much do smart electrical panels cost?
Most smart panels cost around $3.5K before installation fees. Installation costs will be dependent on your unique circumstances and location.
Smart Panel Pros and Cons
- More modern aesthetic and appearance.
- Always receiving software updates. New features and capabilities are added over time.
- Allows you to use fewer batteries or smaller generators.
- You can label and group breakers by room.
- Are installed over traditional circuit wiring. Installation requires no additional expertise that your local electrician won’t have.
- Energy load prioritization customizability during power outages.
- Battery life estimates based on current usage as well as projected changes.
- If you’re already upgrading your electrical panel for solar or a battery, a smart panel may be cheaper at equal in cost.
- Some smart panel systems may not accommodate larger homes with higher breaker counts.
- May not yet be compatible with your preferred smart home assistant.
- Don’t yet work with all solar battery systems.
- Can be expensive.
Are smart electric panels worth it?
A smart electric panel is absolutely worth it if you have, or will have, a solar and/or battery system. Smart panels manage your energy production more efficiently, manage load allocation more effectively, and provide valuable insights on your energy habits.
If you don’t have a solar, battery, or generator system then you will likely be better suited to use a monitoring service like Sense.
Without solar or a secondary power source the smart panel is limited to monitoring and reporting. This is great! But there are cheaper options available that do only that.
Work with SolarUnion for your smart panel upgrade
Interested in exploring smart panel options for your home? Call the experts at SolarUnion today! Serving San Francisco and surrounding areas. Highly reviewed, trusted, and the only diamond rated solar installer in the area.
Give us a call today!