by Ali Kriscenski


The Internet of Things (IoT) is part of everyday life at home and in commercial settings. Connected devices such as smartphones, environmental sensors and building monitoring technology have made internet connectivity a valuable resource. Smart circuit breakers are an option for facility managers to collect information on circuits and electrical equipment and receive data through the internet. Here’s what building managers need to know when considering adding smart circuit breakers to building systems. 


How Smart Circuit Breakers Work

Traditional circuit breakers distribute electricity to loads and protect equipment from overcurrent. Typically circuit breakers provide these functions without user input and within fixed parameters. Whenever electrical wiring has too much current flowing through it, circuit breakers cut the power to protect devices and prevent fire. The basic circuit breaker reacts to the increased current’s magnetic force which engages a lever to break the circuit. Once the load issue is resolved, the circuit can be manually switched back on.



A smart circuit breaker serves the same functions, however these devices use electronic components rather than mechanical. A smart circuit breaker collects and monitors electrical system data from circuit and load equipment. As an internet-connected device, smart circuit breakers enable remote monitoring and control of load demands, temperature settings and other critical system information. Unlike traditional circuit breakers, smart circuit breakers provide building managers real-time data and remote control of protective measures.


3 Benefits of Smart Circuit Breakers




The changing technology of circuit breakers from electromechanical to smart electronic devices incorporates computing power and internet connectivity into a building’s circuit and load management.

  1. Monitoring:

    This monitoring capability allows building managers to track energy loads, be alerted to problems and adjust electricity demand on circuits. Smart circuit breakers can also collect long-term data that can be analyzed to identify potential system improvements towards energy efficiency.

  2. Safe and Reliable:

    Smart circuit breakers don’t rely on mechanical parts, so they can be safer and more reliable. Because these devices utilize real-time data, the reaction time to system defaults is a fraction of the reaction time of mechanical breakers.

  3. External Circuit Information:

    As smart circuit breakers monitor current loads, they can gather information from electrical devices on different circuits. This capability provides insight into how equipment is running and where maintenance or upgrades may be necessary. For example, if a dedicated circuit for a refrigerator is continually overloaded it may indicate that maintenance is needed on the appliance.


Smart Circuit Breakers and Renewable Energy Systems

The rise in renewable and on-site energy production makes electrical power storage and distribution more complex. For example, solar photovoltaic systems can be grid-connected, use battery storage, or a combination of configurations for energy distribution. The metering capability of smart circuit breakers can help solar energy systems run efficiently by identifying energy load patterns and potential energy storage strategies.


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Smart circuit breakers can organize circuits to prioritize essentials when using backup power. Additionally, they can help identify energy leaks or drains that could be minimized or eliminated.


Choosing the Right Equipment for Your Facility

As a building manager, the decision to repair or replace equipment depends on many variables. Mechanical panels and circuit breakers may be older, but if well maintained over the years, they may be sufficient. However, that depends on the other systems in use. As technological upgrades are integrated into building operations, other equipment or devices may become obsolete. 


While older electrical components may be in good condition, consider the fact that electrical panels haven’t advanced significantly for over half a century. This may limit the efficiency of any newer electrical devices or systems. However, investing in maintaining existing equipment may better serve overall operating goals.


Newer equipment doesn’t necessarily require a panel or circuit breaker upgrade. However, the upfront investment costs to switch to smart circuit breakers could have an appealing return on investment (ROI) through energy cost savings.


The best way to determine if an upgrade to smart circuit breakers is a smart move is to enlist the help of an electrical system design professional. Today’s electrical system options are more complex and require up-to-date expertise to find the best strategy for your facility. Contact Therma today to learn more.


Ali Kriscenski was trained in high-performance building design at Boston Architectural College. She has worked with leading architecture and construction firms in NYC and New England and served on the executive team at the Forest Stewardship Council International. She was the managing editor at Inhabitat and has worked pro bono for the Green Building Institute, ISEAL Alliance and Habitat for Humanity.



Wired – What is the Internet of Things? WIRED explains

U.S. Department of Energy – Department of Energy Announces New Funding Opportunity for Next-Generation DC Circuit Breakers

ELE Times – Recent Advancement in Smart Grid Technology