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What you need to know about smart plugs and energy management

Solar and storage are just two components of a fully energized home. Energy management is the next most important piece of the puzzle: to truly understand and manage how your home uses electricity, you also need consumption monitors with built-in controls. Consumption monitors can tell you what is using electricity, how much each device in your home uses, and ultimately how it costs to run each device in your home; meanwhile, the controls allow you to act on that information, shutting off–or scheduling–certain devices at certain times.

Smart plugs are a great, easy and inexpensive first foray into energy management for your home: just plug them into any device in your home and start receiving actionable insights about how your home uses energy. In this article, we’ll explain what you need to know about smart plugs. Find out what solar + storage costs in your area in 2023

Key takeaways

  1. Smart plugs are one type of energy management product, providing both monitoring and control at the individual appliance level

  2. Smart plugs are much more affordable than a whole-home energy management system, making them a perfect entry point into energy management

  3. When choosing smart plugs, it’s important to consider how you’ll use them: inside or outside, in a cramped space, with a large or small appliance, with a voice control device or an app

  4. Energy management is just one component of a fully energized home: once you know how much energy you’re using, solar is a great way to ensure you know where your electricity is coming from. Get started researching solar on EnergySage today

What is a smart plug?

A smart plug is a device that sits between the end of a power cord and an outlet. First and foremost, smart plugs allow you to control whatever device they’re plugged into. For instance, if you place a smart plug on a lamp and keep the lamp’s switch in the ‘on’ position, then you can turn the lamp on or off with your smart plug app from your phone or computer.

Many smart plugs also allow you to monitor how much electricity passes through, and when, meaning they can show you demand and consumption. So for instance, a 60 Watt (W) lightbulb would show a demand (or power draw) of 60 W when it’s turned on. If you keep the light on for two hours, the smart plug would show 120 Watt-hours (or 0.12 kilowatt-hours) of consumption–power multiplied by time. Many apps can then also estimate how much that consumption costs, by multiplying the usage by the rate you pay for electricity.

How do smart plugs work?

In order to function, smart plugs need to be able to communicate with a mobile or desktop app. There are a few different types of communication networks that a smart plug could use: your home’s WiFi, Zigbee or Z-Wave. If the plug uses WiFi, it’s a quick process to connect directly to the network in your home. Zigbee and Z-Wave are protocols that allow a number of different devices to communicate across short distances (like in your home). Those two protocols can create a mesh network across which all of your smart home devices can operate and communicate efficiently. In many cases if you have a smart plug that communicates using something other than your home WiFi network, you’ll need to purchase and set up a ‘hub’ in addition to the smart plug.

From there, you’ll be able to control (and monitor) consumption on your newly-smart devices from a mobile or desktop app. The apps vary significantly, but at a minimum will allow you to turn on and off certain smart plugs.

Why would you want smart plugs?

There are a few key benefits you can expect from smart plugs:

  1. Control: First and foremost, a smart plug provides you with improved control over the devices in your home.

  2. Scheduling: One way smart plugs provide control is with scheduling. Many smart plugs allow you to set a schedule for when to turn on and off an appliance, allowing you to, say, turn on and off a lamp while you’re away on vacation or to set a timer for when your coffee maker turns on.

  3. Remote access: Another way smart plugs provide control is through allowing remote access to your devices. Left the house and not sure if you left a toaster oven on? Check on it and turn it off from your phone.

  4. Voice access compatibility: Not only do smart plugs give you access to your devices through an app, many are also compatible with voice interaction and control systems like Alexa, Siri or Google Home.

  5. Consumption monitoring: And finally, many smart plugs provide consumption monitoring so you can track how much electricity each device uses, and see preemptively if one’s consumption habits change.

Considerations when comparing your options

There are a few primary things to think about when considering different smart plug options: use cases, integrations, and the size of both the device you want the smart plug to connect to, and of the smart plug itself.

  1. Use cases: Are you primarily looking for a smart plug to use inside or outside? Do you need just control or the ability to monitor consumption? And are you looking for just on-off capabilities or the ability to schedule when your devices run?

  2. Integrations: Does the smart plug run on WiFi or on a mesh network? Does it integrate with other smart home devices like Alexa or Google Home?

  3. Size: How much power can the smart plug handle and how much does your device use? And how large is the smart plug itself – does it fit where you’re trying to place it?

Companies that make and sell smart plugs

It seems everybody has a smart plug these days! Here’s an alphabetical, not quite comprehensive list: Amazon, Belkin, ConnectSense, D-Link, Emporia, Eve, GE, Gosuna (TanTan), Govee, Jasco, Kasa (TP Link), Leviton, Lutron, Meross, Phillips, Ring, Samsung, Schneider, Wemo and Wyze. Phew!

Some of the most popular smart plugs on the market today are the Wyze and Kasa Smart products. Both products are reasonably compact and priced, with schedule-based control functionality. The two main differences are that the Kasa Smart provides more functionality–including consumption monitoring, which the Wyze doesn’t have–at a higher price.

Don’t forget about cybersecurity

As with anything connected to the internet, cybersecurity should be a concern when researching home energy management systems. Since smart plugs can control devices and appliances in your home, it’s worth ensuring that the product and brand that you decide to purchase has a strong record on reliability and cybersecurity.

How do smart plugs integrate with energy management systems?

An energy management system consists of two key components: monitoring and controls. Most smart plugs provide both of those things, making them a part of an energy management system. However, while a whole-home energy management system will cover every circuit and every load in your house, a smart plug is designed to only monitor and control an individual appliance or, at most, a half dozen appliances plugged into a power strip. In other words, smart plugs can be a part of a larger energy management system, but on their own will paint an incomplete picture of everything happening in your home or business from an energy perspective.

Start managing your energy today by going solar!

While we’re at it, a true energy management system isn’t complete without solar and storage. To get started adding a solar-plus-storage system to your home to complement the smart plugs or other energy management devices you’ve installed, sign up for a free account on EnergySage today. You’ll receive up to seven quotes from pre-vetted solar installers so you can find the right system at the right price.


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