Bright Spark

An ex-Tesla engineer wants to make your home's fuse box smart

The Span panel is perfect for those buying an electric vehicle or adding clean-energy solutions to their homes.

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Sometimes taking big steps forward into the realm of modern technology means re-thinking the infrastructure that fades into the background of everyday life. That’s why Arch Rao, a former Tesla engineer, created a smart electrical panel to better handle charging for electric cars, e-bikes, solar power, and home energy storage solutions.

Rao’s company Span wants to change the way we think about monitoring and controlling the flow of electricity in our homes. Most electric vehicle owners are forced to upgrade their in-home electrical panels to account for the extra load — so why not change out the device for something much smarter while they're at it?

Span is built for modern needs.

“If you’re upgrading your electrical panel, you’re just going from a small version of an ancient technology to a new version of the same ancient technology, which is a passive circuit breaker box,” Rao told Electrek. “That same problem manifests itself when you’re adopting a large solar system or an energy storage system.”

Bringing your home into the 21st century doesn’t just have to mean buying a bunch of smart lights and smart speakers and calling it a day. You can also upgrade the underlying infrastructure we take for granted, like the electrical panels that keep the rest of our devices running smoothly.

Smart panel for a smart future — Based on his time at Tesla, Roa says he believes that about half of all new electric vehicle owners will need to upgrade their existing systems to accommodate the extra load. He reasons that this is the perfect opportunity to make your system smarter.

Span offers unprecedented electrical control via the company's software.

The Span electrical panel is connected to an app that allows owners to monitor the flow of electricity through their homes in real-time. That app includes controls for sending more power to critical nodes and options to use stored clean-energy assets when the power goes out.

Will it take off? — Maybe someday. Right now most people aren’t looking to spend their extra cash on updating an electrical panel that works just fine, thank you very much. So it’s really going to be those with already-changing energy needs that might be interested in becoming Span customers. People who are interested in buying an electric vehicle or investing in solar panels are prime targets, as are those doing new builds who might want to start smart rather than needing to retrofit later.

Span also isn't the only show in town when it comes to smart circuit breaker replacements — French company Legrand has offered smart switches for years and showed off its latest offerings at CES this year. Nonetheless, there's interest in Span from investors. The company just raised $10.2 million to scale up and commercialize its product, which will give it a hefty head start in breaking into the market, especially in the U.S. where Teslas and other EVs are steadily gaining in popularity.

The Span panel is actually less expensive to purchase and install than a traditional, upgraded panel, so there’s really no reason not to buy one if you have increased or specific energy needs, or you're just an electricity nerd who wants more control.