The sun shines through the image of a battery, signifying a load controller in your home
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Efficient Energy Flow

Harnessing the Power of a Load Controller for Smarter Home Energy Use

Daren Wang
/
December 13, 2023

Is Load Management Your Home’s Next Step in Efficiency?

We tend to think of the supply of electricity as a constant. Flip the switch, and it flows. But it’s not. Solar and wind energy are very cheap to produce, but they are intermittent, going away when the sun isn’t shining or the wind is calm. Energy generated by burning fossil fuels is more expensive, and some generators are more efficient than others. Operators bring the least efficient ones online only when demand is peaking, so electricity is more expensive to produce during those peak times.

Many utilities charge higher rates for power when demand is high or supply is low. With that incentive, managing when you draw power from the grid is becoming a more important option for controlling costs.

Homeowners, especially those with solar power systems, are becoming increasingly aware of a tool called a load controller. Some solar power providers have even incorporated load controllers into their offerings, making them an integral part of the modern solar system. But what exactly is a load controller, and how does it impact our daily lives? Let's peek into the world of load controllers and explore their advantages and disadvantages.

Three Ways to Reduce Energy at Home

Before we get started, we need to look at the three primary ways to reduce grid energy consumption at home:

1. Going Solar: Installing solar panels to produce your electricity is a popular choice. However, remember that reducing your energy usage is essential when you have to purchase energy capacity upfront. The less energy you use, the fewer panels you’ll have to install.

2. Energy Efficiency: Implementing energy-efficient measures such as sealing ductwork, adding proper insulation, and upgrading to efficient appliances can significantly reduce energy waste without altering your lifestyle.

3. Energy Conservation: Making lifestyle changes, like adjusting the thermostat, wearing warmer clothing in the winter, and managing appliances, can contribute to energy conservation.  

If you’re willing to make lifestyle changes to reduce your energy use, then a load controller could be a great solution for you.

What Is a Load Controller?

A load controller is a device that manages and limits a home's electrical usage at any given time. It directly connects to your electrical panel and monitors the power draw in your home. For instance, imagine a scorching summer day when your air conditioner, TV, oven, and hot water heater all run simultaneously. If this energy consumption exceeds the load controller's predefined limit, it starts shedding loads, turning off appliances to limit your energy draw.

Oftentimes, load controllers are tied to “Time-of-Use” rates. Time of use is just the term for utilities charging more for electricity when it costs them more to supply it because of low supply or high demand. Load controllers often restrict electricity usage when it is most expensive.  

The thought of having appliances and the air conditioner abruptly turned off may initially seem discouraging for homeowners. After all, who wants their AC to stop cooling during a blazing summer day? But there is more benefit to you than you might initially realize.

Do Load Controllers Save Money?

From a utility company's perspective, load controllers are a huge benefit. Utilities often struggle to meet energy requirements during peak demand periods, especially during the scorching summer months. The surge in energy usage during these times can strain the electrical grid to its capacity.

So sure, load controllers may benefit your utility company. But is turning your air conditioner off during a scorching summer day just to help your power company worth it? That’s where those new rate structures come into play.  Load controllers can ensure that your household is limiting energy use when it’s most expensive while encouraging use when rates are low, saving the homeowner money. For example, Arizona Public Service estimates that their average customer can save around $49 each month with a load controller.

What Is a Smart Load Controller?

A smart load controller takes load management to the next level by distinguishing between different appliances and energy sources. It can shut off specific devices, such as the water heater while keeping the AC running. However, homeowners may need to adjust their thermostats, pool pumps, and daily routines to complement the load controller's operation.

Are There Alternatives to Load Controllers?

For solar customers, battery technology has advanced sufficiently to serve as an alternative to load controllers. Batteries from reputable manufacturers like LG and Enphase can store solar energy and provide power during peak hours or after sunset. These whole-house batteries work in tandem with solar panels, potentially reducing a home's reliance on the electrical grid.

Are Load Controllers Harmful to Air Conditioners?

Load controllers, when wired correctly, do not harm air conditioners. However, incorrect wiring can lead to complications. This issue is particularly relevant as many load controllers are installed by solar companies, which may not have expertise in HVAC systems. The increasing complexity of HVAC systems, with more electronic components and advanced features, necessitates proper installation and wiring to ensure that load controllers function seamlessly without causing issues.

Pros and Cons of Load Controllers

Load controllers have become an important part of many solar panel systems in areas where utilities use time-of-use rates. However, homeowners need to consider both the benefits and drawbacks of load controllers:

Pros

- Potential for significant energy bill savings.

- Helps utilities manage peak demand effectively.

- Can potentially replace the necessity of upgrading your electrical service

Cons

- Appliances may be abruptly turned off during peak times.

- Requires adjustments to thermostat settings and daily routines.

- Expert installation is essential to prevent issues.

Load controllers can be a crucial tool in managing household energy usage, especially during peak demand periods. While they offer potential cost savings, homeowners must weigh the advantages and disadvantages to determine if load controllers align with their energy management goals.

We’re fans of the Span electrical panel. This twenty-first-century update to the standard circuit breaker power box allows homeowners to fine-tune their power consumption with up to 32 monitored circuits. The company claims users can expect a 15% drop in power usage, but the benefit might be even greater than that. A homeowner looking to charge their EV, warm their home with a heat pump, and cook with their induction stove may find themselves using more electricity than their utility power supply can offer. With Span’s sophisticated power management tools, it may be possible to avoid the expensive step of upgrading service from the utility.  

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