Sense Blog
Mike Phillips, Sense CEO

2019 Year End Update from Mike

CEO Mike Phillips shares key highlights from 2019 and looks ahead to 2020.

Hi Everyone,

We’ve had another super busy year at Sense! We’ve been expanding our team, adding partnerships, and continuing to add key functionality to the Sense products. And of course, continuing to expand the device coverage of the core Sense technology (the number one thing most of you are asking for).

Last year I wrote about our focus group studies where we learned more about peoples’ desire to save energy in their homes — and the ways we could help. One of the things we did to follow up on this was to spend a lot of time with customers — including visits to their homes to better understand energy savings opportunities and how Sense could help (thank you to everyone who let us do this!)

One of our key findings was that there is actually a VERY broad set of energy wasting devices in homes. To see what I mean, take a look at the stories at Sense Saves. If we had found that there were just a handful of energy wasting devices in homes, our focus for the year would have been to identify those energy wasting devices and automatically alert consumers about them to get them replaced. For example, if we had found that old, inefficient refrigerators or incandescent lights were the main culprits (which seems to be the assumption of the utility efficiency experts I talk with) then we would automate the detection of inefficient refrigerators and incandescent lights and figure out ways to encourage users to replace them. But it turns out that the assumption that these few bad devices account for major efficiency gains is wrong! And yes, if you still have some old, inefficient refrigerator or still use incandescent lights, you should change that, but this is mostly done. Based on our data, if the remaining bad fridges were replaced with modern, efficient versions, we would see a savings of only about 1.8% and if the remaining incandescent lights were replaced with LEDs, we would save just over 0.8% of total power.

So, yes, we should do those things, but meanwhile there is a long tail of “energy hogs” — by which we mean a wide variety of things that the homeowner could easily fix or change if they knew about them. We think about half of these energy hogs are “Always On” devices which make up approximately 23% of all US residential electricity use. Some of these are things that use power for a reason (radon fan, network router, etc.), but a big chunk of this comes from devices that are using power when the homeowner assumes they are off. See, for example, a story we shared a bit over a year ago about Comcast DVRs with “fake power saving mode”.

From our data, we know that if the homeowners with high Always On usage could just get to the median Always On (251 watts among Sense users), this would save 12.9% of total power — compared to just 1.8% and 0.8% for replacing all bad fridges and all incandescent lights. If everyone in the country could do this, this 12.9% of total US residential electricity use would be more than what is produced by wind and solar combined!

In addition to these Always On energy hogs, we find there is a long list of other things that cause energy to be wasted, ranging from malfunctioning devices (like a broken HVAC system) to things the homeowner forgot about (like heating coils to prevent ice dams — left on in the summer!) to things the homeowner just didn’t realized use so much power (dehumidifiers, for example).

Given all of this, we have realized the most important thing we can do to help is to continue to give you visibility into how power is being used and encourage you to use this visibility to track down problems in your homes.

Many of our product releases this year have been focused on this including:

Monthly Email Report

Always On Stats

Compare and Home Details

Home Energy Notifications

We have more ideas along these lines, so expect to see more of this sort of thing in 2020 — and let us know if you have ideas of your own for how Sense can better help you track down energy hogs.

We do also see a role for more automated detection of problems with devices (related to either efficiency or reliability) and, in particular, think there are big savings opportunities around optimizing heating and cooling performance of homes. This includes detecting issues with HVAC systems themselves, but over time we think that we can identify problems with insulation, windows, etc. (by comparing HVAC performance to indoor and outdoor temperatures, for example).

Connected thermostats have achieved some HVAC savings already (mainly through scheduling) but even smart thermostats don’t know the actual energy use of the HVAC equipment, so they are limited in their abilities to diagnose performance problems. Sense, on the other hand, can see details of what the HVAC equipment is doing but doesn’t know what it is being asked to do — and we don’t know indoor and outdoor temperatures.

The opportunity is to combine the two! We recently launched an initial integration with Ecobee thermostats. With your permission, Sense is able to talk to your Ecobee thermostats and gather information about runtimes, indoor and outdoor temperature, etc. So far, this integration doesn’t provide any direct benefits to you, but it will over time. Our data science team is in the middle of a major project to use this Ecobee integration to better model HVAC behavior and performance. We’ll be releasing new functionality around this as soon as we can — probably in early 2020.

Even though we’ve been working on these new directions, our core technology focus remains ongoing device detection improvements. In my 2018 end-of-the-year message, I talked about the need for ground truth to help drive our device detection work. Well, this has been going great, and we now have over 15,000 smart plugs connected to Sense! This, along with other integrations, is starting to have very positive benefits to the work by our data science team, and our users will start seeing ongoing benefits from this work.

Another very useful source of ground truth to help our work is the device inventory lists that many of you have been entering in the application. We know this is not providing direct benefits to you yet, but it will. All of this information is helping our team improve Sense device detection. We are making continuous improvements based on this, and are working on upcoming product feature where the device inventory will directly improve the Sense device detection.

Thank you for your continued involvement — we have a great community of users and appreciate all of your efforts to help us improve Sense!

Mike