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Revolutionary Innovation for Circuit Breaker Boxes

William Hughes
Sep 22, 2023

Smart Home 3

The venerable circuit breaker box has reliably provided safety within homes for decades by instantly disconnecting power to any circuit that exceeds its rated capacity. These devices have not changed much in over 70 years. They are now getting a 21st century makeover.

Before long, some homes on the block will have replaced their gray metal boxes with highly functional “smart panels.” Besides being attractive, smart panels help homeowners save energy, simplify adding power accessories, enhance safety, and make homes more resilient. Investors are starting to take notice of this nascent market. For example, Span, a startup that has been a pioneer in this technology, recently secured $96.5 million in funding.

What Smart Panels Can Do

Smart panels come with built-in sensors, switches, connectors, intelligence, and internet communication. These enable several capabilities:

  • Remote control of circuit breakers: When a circuit breaker pops, the homeowner can reset it from their smartphone, whether they are in the living room or out to dinner.
  • Simplified installation of accessories: When a home adds EV charging equipment, solar panels, or local battery storage, an electrician often needs to rewire the circuit breaker box. Smart panels make this more straightforward, as they already have the necessary connectors and logic to reconfigure themselves.
  • Disaggregation of power loads: The components within the smart panel connect to the cloud and determine how much power applies to different loads and how much solar panels are generating.
  • Safe preparation for backup power: Power outages are a fact of life. Most homeowners take steps to mitigate the inconvenience. However, too many of the current options bypass critical safety features. Smart panels make it very convenient for the homeowner to stay safe.
Smart Panel Availability

Smart panels are relatively new, so not all capabilities are available from every vendor or in every region. Manufacturers are rolling out their offerings in select markets to keep any surprises contained. The primary focus now is North America, but smart panels will soon be generally available in Europe and in some markets in Asia.

In addition to startups, several established companies have smart panel offerings. Leviton, an established manufacturer of electrical wiring equipment, introduced the Leviton Load Center in 2018 and has been adding smart capabilities ever since. Schneider Electric, which owns the well-known Square D brand of electrical components, announced the Energy Center in early 2021.

Schneider Electric’s Square D Energy Center Smart Panel

Smart electrical panel on the exterior wall of a home, with an insert showing a hand holding a smartphone with an energy management app open

(Source: Schneider Electric)

Additional Considerations

While the benefits they provide are important, smart panels are not for everyone. The initial cost of smart panel hardware is much higher than that of a conventional circuit breaker panel by several thousand dollars. While a smart panel is somewhat easier to install initially, the real savings come when the homeowner adds EV charging, backup generators, batteries, or solar panels. The costs to add these options to a smart panel are minimal, whereas adding them to a conventional circuit breaker panel may cost several thousand dollars and take extensive time to plan.

A high end builder that seeks to differentiate its offerings by adding sustainable features, such as KB Home in California, is well served by incorporating smart panels into its offerings. On the other hand, a house flipper would just want a cheap, safe solution during a renovation. The best solution for them is a conventional circuit breaker panel.

Electrification is recognized as a valid approach to pursuing sustainability, and smart panels make the electrification of a house faster, easier, and safer. Guidehouse Insights expects this niche product to experience rapid growth in the coming decade. For more information on devices and services that help monitor and manage a home’s energy system, check out Guidehouse Insights’ recently published Residential Energy Management Systems report.