Sense Review

In late 2019 I had made my mind up, I was going to install solar. I reached out to Rochester Renewable and had them update a quote they had first done in 2017. Rochester Renewable would start the installation of Solar Panels in December of 2019 and finish with electrical work inside including an APsystems monitoring system in January of 2020. The monitoring system did have a flaw, it would only monitor solar production. How was I suppose to balance that with monitoring my usage? The answer would be Sense which I had seen advertised on the internet.

Sense Kit

Installation is pretty straight forward. I had the electrician who was doing the solar install, also do the install of the device. There is an actual Sense device which can be mounted inside or outside your breaker box. Connected to the device is two sensors, one for each wire coming into your home. These sensors will detect in real time the current coming into your home. The device then can have a WiFi antenna directly attached or use the provided cord, as I did, to have the antenna be outside your breaker box. The Sense device also needs power and you’ll need to wire it up to a 240v breaker. Sounds easy enough even though Sense does recommend an electrician. As an added bonus you can buy a Solar version that will have two extra sensors to monitor your solar production entering your breaker box. This is a nice added feature that will allow me to monitor both production and usage in one app. Unfortunately adding the two extra sensors is confusing and I was glad I was there to help out my electrician because the instructions are in a separate solar add on box and the port needed to plug them in is covered even though I bought them as a combo.

Everything was installed properly and I turned on my Sense. The first thing it wanted to do was a solar calibration. This can be tricky as you need to have solar production. In Rochester, NY in the winter, that can be tricky. The app won’t let you proceed until that calibration is complete. Luckily the website worked. I started entering all my information including detailed specifics about all my appliances. You see, Sense heavily advertises that not only can Sense give you live electric usage for your whole home, it can also sense specific appliances and devices. Sense also has integrations that can help. I connected Sense to my Philips Hue so that any Hue lighting would easily get detected by Sense.

Sense quickly learned three devices. My garage door opener came first and has reliably been detected. The exhaust fan for my gas water heater came second and also still works. Next came my Tesla Model 3 which got detected but hasn’t been detected since. I also got my solar calibration easily done on a sunny day when there was no snow on my panels.

Sense quickly learned more devices. A lot of times the detection will be vague and will label power usage as Heat 1, Motor 1, or Device 1. You are then suppose to look at the usage and help label the device. One heat device was clearly my dishwashers heat cycle and I labelled it accordingly but then it got confusing. Sense would say my dishwasher ran when it was my clothes iron than had run at the time. Apparently Sense is not so smart and has trouble differentiation between devices similar signatures and power usage. Many resistive heat devices have a similar signature and will use the maximum power draw they can out of a common 15 amp socket.

I’ve now had the Sense for almost two month and the only other reliable detection has been my microwave. I deleted my dishwasher, as support suggested that Sense needed to relearn the device. It has since detected two additional heat devices that has left me more confused. I have no idea what they are, maybe one of them is my refrigerator and its defrost cycle. It definitely is nothing user initiated. All my Philips Hue bulbs are detected reliable due to the integration.

Conclusion: Sense needs more integrations as its detection algorithms are heavily flawed. Sense with Solar Sensors is $350. Though it ultimately works for what I wanted, the price is high. I don’t know how much of my devices it will detect and the common consensus in the Sense community is that it won’t, especially when it comes to electronic devices like iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks. Sense heavily advertises that it will detect and can save you money by helping you identify heavy electric usage. From a solar perspective, there are other solutions including DIY with a Raspberry Pi board. This would probably be a lower price option and allow me access to my own data. If Sense shuts down due to financial issues, the device quits working and I lose access to any data I haven’t exported.

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