Sense Delivers Insight into Home Energy Usage

If your house could talk to you about your energy usage, what would it say?

The creators of Sense think it would say you could reduce your energy usage by at least 20 percent—and tell you how.

Sense is a home energy monitor that gives real-time insight into your home’s energy usage. Its co-founders got their start in speech recognition, developing a predecessor to Siri that became the voice interface for Samsung and others.

That background in speech recognition informed the way they approached home energy monitoring. Sense gives each energy user in your house a distinct voice—your fridge, your microwave, your treadmill, and every other object that gets plugged in starts reporting its individual usage patterns.

“It’s like doing speech recognition with 30 people all talking at the same time,” explains Sense CEO and Co-founder Michael Phillips.

Once it’s installed in your electrical panel, the Sense monitor takes energy measurements one million times per second. Sense uses those high resolution energy measurements as input to machine learning, which identifies an increasing number of devices in a home.

Sense is consumer-facing to its core. That means you get more information than just how many watts you’re using—you learn when your TV turned on, when the garage door opened, or when your washing machine finished running. You can tap into this livestream of your home on the Sense energy monitor app.

“The fact that you see this in real time, somehow that makes a connection,” Phillips says. “You can see what’s going on right now. That’s the thing that engages people. If people are looking at this to see when the TV turned off last night, while they’re looking at it they say, ‘Wait, why am I using 5,000 watts right now? Something’s going on in my home.’”

Sense gives people the knowledge they need to reduce their energy costs and usage, with profound effects on the environment: the company estimates that its users are saving a total of 53 million pounds of CO2 annually, which is equivalent to 26,500 metric tons.

Photo courtesy of Sense.

“Many people find they’re able to track down some unknown energy hogs in their home,” Phillips says. “If you had water leaking in your basement you would know it, but if electricity is being wasted, you don’t know it. It’s some energy wasting thing you didn’t know about, like your treadmill that uses 50 watts when it’s plugged in doing nothing. We call it ‘always on,’ or ‘vampire load,’ where it’s using power when you think it’s off.”

In the future, the energy monitor will help with safety and security as well, giving you a heads up on potential issues, such as if your AC is going to break or if you’re at risk of having an electrical fire.

Sense’s hardware team worked out of Greentown Labs starting in 2016, utilizing the machine shop to build the device. Greentown also connected Sense with two of its investors, Shell and Schneider Electric.

“There was a lot of exposure to upstream companies—so suppliers of tools, suppliers of software, manufacturing companies,” says John Watlington, director of hardware at Sense. “At least once a week, there was somebody having a lunch meeting. It’s finding the services you need to build stuff, to get stuff done.”

Sense is now headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., and has a team of about 50 people. 

The future of Sense’s home energy monitoring is energy optimization, Phillips says. Energy optimization adjusts energy usage for non-time-dependent applications, like charging your electric vehicle at some point during the night, to the most ideal time. As utilities increasingly commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they will need to ramp up the amount of renewable energy resources on the grid and to influence the timing of energy use to better match the variable supplies. Phillips envisions Sense would function as an automated middleman between the energy user and the utility.

Greentown Labs is a community of bold, passionate entrepreneurs creating solutions for today’s biggest climate and environmental challenges. Located in Somerville, Mass., the Greentown Labs Global Center for Cleantech Innovation is the largest cleantech incubator in North America, operating a 100,000 sq. ft. campus comprised of prototyping and wet lab space, shared office space, a machine shop, electronics lab, and a curated suite of programs and resources. Greentown Labs is home to more than 90 startups and has supported more than 210 since its inception.