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Lumin now integrates with all Tesla Powerwall batteries -- including Powerwall 3 -- to read and respond to state of charge. Download the Lumin app to get started.

Lumin now integrates with all Tesla Powerwall batteries -- including Powerwall 3 -- to read and respond to state of charge. Download the Lumin app to get started.

Residential Load Controllers vs. Smart Electrical Management

Published at 13 Jul 2021
Residential Load Controllers vs. Smart Electrical Management
Residential Load Controllers vs. Smart Electrical Management

The Smart Alternative to Load Controllers

Three Ways to Reduce Energy Use in Homes

What is a Load Controller?

How Does a Residential Load Control Device Work?

Will a Residential Load Controller Save You Money?

Saving money on electricity bills is top of mind in summer when households are cranking air conditioners and fueling pool pumps. Come winter the monthly energy costs ramp right back up again, with heating and water heater costs inevitably higher than the year before. How can you curb your residential load and reduce monthly energy costs? A residential load controller is one solution.

Designed to help reduce peak demand and improve energy efficiency, a load controller can keep consumption in check and cost savings a priority. Because it caps your house's electric use, it prevents you from using more than your set amount, which has both advantages and disadvantages. However, while a residential load controller will help you save money on electricity, it can be a rigid and restrictive solution for many customers, especially those with irregular schedules or working from home.

A smart home energy management system, on the other hand, is responsive to electrical loads as well as the homeowner's needs. With a smartphone app, you can easily set up schedules and modes to automate and optimize your home's energy use. Let's look at different ways to save money on electricity, manage residential loads, and achieve the best balance to meet your goals.

The Smart Alternative to Load Controllers

Before exploring the pros and cons of residential load controllers, let's look at the best load controller alternative: the smart energy management system. If you're looking for ways to reduce household electricity costs, smart electrical management systems are unmatched. Thanks to advances in solar + battery technology, solar customers are able to circumvent high electricity costs altogether - without any of the drawbacks that come with load controllers. How does it work? A whole home battery backup system works seamlessly with your solar photo-voltaic panels (PVs) or array to meet your household energy demand. Solar batteries store the clean energy produced by your PV panels, and then make it available for free during peak demand hours to lighten the load and cut your monthly electric bills.

A smart home energy management system, on the other hand, is responsive to electrical loads as well as the homeowner's needs.

Three Ways to Reduce Energy Use in Homes

Reducing residential loads can ease demand on the grid, reduce your carbon footprint, and save you money on monthly energy bills. Here are three different methods of reducing energy use in your home.

Energy Savings Method #1: Going Solar

The solar example is fairly simple: By using solar panels, you reduce the amount of energy you use from the grid. But by pairing your solar PVs with solar batteries, you can take your savings even higher by using your stored solar power during peak rate times. This saves energy costs while cutting your carbon footprint.

Energy Savings Method #2: Improving Energy Efficiency

Buying a more energy-efficient refrigerator or air conditioner can save you money in the long run, even taking the upfront costs into account. Upgrading the insulation and sealing in your home can translate to energy cost savings over time. When your home is airtight, you won't have the money you spend on heating and cooling "flying out the window."

Energy Savings Method #3: Conserving Energy

Some of the simplest energy savings methods can make a difference to your monthly electric bills. Closing the refrigerator door, putting a timer on your water heater, closing doors to rooms to conserve heat or air conditioning all help curb your residential loads. To take your energy efficiency efforts to the next level, you can install devices or systems that regulate, automate and do some of the heavy lifting for you. From load control devices to smart energy management systems, these solutions come with different benefits and considerations.

What is a Load Controller?

A residential load controller (or demand controller, as it's also called), is a device that limits how much electricity your home can draw from the grid at one time. Operated by a remote-control switch, the device is tied directly into your electrical panel. How are residential load controllers used? Home energy customers can use them to cap their household power consumption in order to save money on electricity. The devices can be used to switch appliances or electrical loads on or off. They can also be used to regulate the amount of power that an individual load can consume. Load controllers can also be operated by a utility or third-party energy provider to reduce your household's energy demand at peak times. Through direct load control programs, power companies regulate your energy directly by cycling your air conditioners and water heater on and off during peak demand time periods. What's in it for residential customers?

Energy providers offer a financial incentive and/or cost savings on electric bills in exchange. Utilities and energy providers charge customers a lot more to use power from the grid during peak hours. Residential load controllers level out the peak demand from homes and help regulate the spikes in usage - all of which benefits the power company. A solar load controller, more commonly called a solar charge controller, regulates battery voltage and provides load control for DC electrical loads.

How Does a Residential Load Control Device Work?

Installed next to your circuit breaker panel, a residential load control device connects to 220v appliances - like your air conditioners, pool pump, clothes dryer and water heater - and monitors their power usage. Through a process called load shedding, the load controller (or demand controller) shuts off individual appliances as the power demand increases, prioritizing them in an order pre-set by you in advance. Say you want to reduce your family's A/C usage to trim energy costs. (This assumes you don't live in a region that already has a direct load control program in place.) You could install a residential load control device of your own and pre-set the limits, based on the amount you're willing to pay. That forces family members to conserve energy and find other ways to cool off when the load has reached its limit. (Just keep in mind it also forces those of you working from home to deal with uncomfortable temperatures as well.) How can demand controllers save you money? By reducing your demand, you can reduce your monthly electric bills. The amount of cost savings, though, depends on lifestyle changes and how much time and effort you're willing to dedicate to the cause. You can calculate your estimated energy savings based on kw hours, square footage of your home and other factors.

Commonly Controlled Loads

When it comes to load control, certain appliances and electronic devices come to the top of the priority list. Residential load controllers are often installed to regulate these "power hogs":

  • Air conditioners
  • Pool heater / pumps
  • Water heaters
  • Electric dryer
  • Oven / stove

Will a Residential Load Controller Save You Money?

Although a residential load controller will help you save money on energy bills, the cons of such a system can outweigh the pros. Which solution is right for you?

Residential customers who work from home during the day should think twice before opting for load controllers. Capping your daily power consumption might seem like a smart idea at first, until you're forced to work without air conditioning during the hottest part of the day. To see any significant savings on electricity bills, you're required to change your lifestyle to conform to the residential load guidelines. That means not using hot water, doing laundry or cooking in your oven during peak hours (which is often the busiest time of day when everyone's home and you need it most!). Energy management systems are responsive, whereas load controllers are not. Homeowners are forced to adapt to the load control caps with limited options for workarounds.

After installing a residential load controller, what's the average energy savings you can expect? You need to do some number-crunching first. After figuring out how much money you're spending without a device, then you can determine the average cost savings from an energy management system. This requires different calculations as well. In order to calculate your solar payback period, you first need to find out your combined costs and your annual benefits.

  • Gross costs - upfront incentives = combined costs
  • Annual electricity costs you didn't have to pay - annual incentives = annual benefits

Once you've calculated both of those equations, now you can discover your solar payback period.

  • Combined costs / annual benefits = solar payback period

Final Thoughts on Residential Load Controllers

How can you manage your home energy costs without compromising too much on comfort and practical needs? With a residential load controller, the load controls your every move during peak hours, whereas a smart energy management platform responds to your goals and immediate needs. If you're thinking about installing a load controller, consider the benefits of a product like the Lumin smart circuit breaker as well. Serving as a complete home energy manager, Lumin is responsive to a range of factors including demand limits, circuit schedules, time-of-use rates, and your own inputs and preferences All of this enables you to reduce energy waste and save money through automated scheduling of your home's circuits - on your own terms.

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