Plug load is the energy used by products that are powered by means of any ordinary AC plug. This excludes building energy that is attributed to major end uses, such as HVAC, lighting, water heating, etc. Plug loads typically draw electricity around the clock.


Universal commercial applications

Plug Loads account for about a third of commercial building energy use and in the built environment, buildings are responsible for 41 percent of U.S. primary energy use, which means that around 15% of U.S. primary energy use can be attributed to plug load. As more and more effort is spent optimizing the obvious targets, HVAC and Lighting, plug load consumption as a % of the total, increases, as can be seen in the Higher Efficiency Building graphic in the image below. When looking at a typical Net Zero building, Plug Load represents between 50% and 60% of total load and is by far the most difficult type of load to mitigate.​

Plug Load
in Practice

  • Commercial Office
  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Industrial

Commercial Office

A typical office is made up of Desktop's, Laptop's, single or dual Monitor configurations, Peripherals, Printers, Copiers, Kitchen Equipment, and Conference room equipment. Off all categories, this one is the easiest to optimize and should get the highest returns. This is mainly due to the predictable nature of plug load usage.


Healthcare can have instances very similar to the commercial office and higher education and those should be addressed first. Within hospitals you will also find labs and clinic. Clinics will have many of the same types of categories and devices that are found in an office with some additional instruments used for diagnostics. Clinics typically have a very predictable schedule and make them a very good candidate for plug load control. Care must be taken as to not interfere with the functionality of devices that are critical for patient care, these should be excluded from all control schemes.


Similar to the commercial office setting, you may also find lab equipment and other devices specific to these institutions and what they specialize in. Patterns are a bit more difficult to predict, from day to day and semester to semester. Determining who is using what may not be as straight forward, especially in a lab environment, therefore more work is required to optimize, however the gains are the similar.


You will find the exact same devices in the office environment here, and those should be addressed. Investigating all other 110V loads, you will uncover many opportunities for control, typically based on scheduling.


The key to Plug Load Control is just that- CONTROL- which requires load monitoring, individual load control, robust reporting and analysis, ease of installation and setup. Plug Loads are a highly dynamic thing- an effective system must be able to monitor and control Plug Loads at a granular, individual level, as well as provide the reporting and analysis tools that commercial enterprise customers expect. The management tools must be simple and easy to use for facilities managers and individual users. Ideally the system will seamlessly integrate with existing building management systems (BMS). An often overlooked component of usability is the initial installation and set up of the system; it’s essential that the physical installation does not require special tools or training, and that the configuration and provisioning of the system is fast and intuitive.

Monitor & Control of individual Plug Loads

Can you control each individual plug load with the press of a button on the device itself, via a web interface, mobile phone app, or automation sequence? If the answer is NO to all of these questions, keep looking.


Plug Load Control Automation

Are you able to configure the plug load control system to operate on schedules, energy consumption goals, occupancy, input from other BMS, and Demand Response signals? You may wonder if you need all of these. The answer if you don't now, you will in the future. A highly configurable system is most desirable in order to be able to adapt to the ever changing environment we live in today where building codes are drastically changing from year to year and energy tariff schemes continue to get more complex.

Administrator and User Control

Will your system allow an administrator to configure certain rules and functionality that everyone must adhere to as well as give users the power to configure part of or all of their individual environment?


Plug Load Usage Reporting and Analytics

Will your system allow an administrator to configure certain rules and functionality that everyone must adhere to as well as give users the power to configure part of or all of their individual environment?

Plug Load Control Installation

Is the system straight forward to install. All good systems will require some level of provisioning and as the technology continues to evolve you can expect some of this to happen on its own with device recognition capabilities. How about wiring? Will you need to call an electrician? If so, make sure to account for those costs in your calculation. Short of replacing receptacles, a good system should not need an electrician.


Communication and Security

What is the communication protocol used to control your plug loads? Will you be using Zigbee or some hacked version of it? Or even WiFI? I can tell you that if you are, you have found the wrong system. Mesh networks like Zigbee work fine for lighting and other control mechanisms because of the number of nodes. When you try to address a much larger number of individual nodes such as plug loads with a Mesh architecture you will run into control lag (imagine flicking a light switch and then having to wait 20 seconds for it to respond), loss of data, and worse, missing the commands to actually control your plug loads altogether. Although WiFi might seem like it may be a good idea because it is already there, it is a PowerHog in itself, which is counterintuitive to your goal, but, more importantly, your IT department will flat out tell you NO. Don't believe me, go ask them if you can add 500 to 1000 new nodes onto the companies existing WiFi infrastructure.



Will Plug Loads Be the Next
Frontier in Energy Efficiency?

Plug load control holds great potential for facility managers trying to meet efficiency mandates and cut spending on energy. There is a lot of good news: The simple reality is that facility managers don’t have to go too far to find ways to cut energy by managing plugs. All it takes is desire, a bit of discipline and readily available technology.

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Understanding The Growth
Of Plug Loads

Plug loads, according to a pilot study performed by New York-based green technology company ThinkEco Inc., make up the fastest growing end-use of electricity in the commercial sector. As the amount of electricity used by plug loads grows, it becomes increasingly important to manage it. Electrical contractors can help their customers, but this requires an understanding of how plug-level energy management works and what tools are available.

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