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What is a Smart Switch?

Ken Black
Ken Black

A smart switch is a device used to help people monitor how much electricity they use personally, or that is being used overall. It does this by increasing the resistance so that turning on the light becomes harder during times when energy use is higher. The smart switch is considered one of the most innovative energy conservation approaches, especially of those developed in recent years.

The smart switch accesses computer networking equipment in order to monitor electrical usage on a constant, or nearly constant, basis. Some switches may be turned on or programmed to work at only a certain time of the day, when electricity usage would be historically higher. Thus, these switches can be one of the easiest tools to use because they are controlled automatically.

Smart switches typically work by making the process of turning on the light more challenging.
Smart switches typically work by making the process of turning on the light more challenging.

The resistance to a smart switch is applied through what is known as a braking pad. Just like when brakes are applied to a car, the friction and pressure works to slow the rotation of the wheels, so too does a braking pad on a smart switch. It pushes against a plate, which then makes the operation of the switch more difficult. While the light switch can still be operated, many may think twice about it if there is more resistance.

The smart switch, while not truly a controversial measure, has received some criticism. For example, critics charge the switch makes little difference in the effort to save electricity because many people may not even notice the resistance it puts forth. Also, some conspiracy theorists have postulated this is simply a step away from the government dictating to individuals when they will and will not use their indoor lighting.

There are two basic ways the smart switch can be programmed to operate. It can provide resistance when there is an extremely high level of electrical usage in the home or it can do so when the entire grid is experiencing levels of high demand. Some may be programmed to operate when either one is happening. Theoretically, this may help prevent brown outs. However, there is no guarantee that keeping a few lights off will make a significant difference as other home electrical components use far more electricity.

The decision to use a smart switch is a truly personal one that may serve as a good reminder for those who are concerned about energy conservation. While the switch will not, in itself, stop energy usage, it will help keep such thoughts in the forefront. The switch, sometimes referred to as a smart switch, should be available commercially in 2009.

Discussion Comments


A smart switch sounds like a great idea for my household. Even though I am always turning off lights when no one is in the room, my husband is really bad about leaving them on all the time. I think that if we had a smart switch, he would notice how much electricity he wastes as the switch began to offer him resistance.

I would love for him to stop and think about the energy that a light must put forth in order to operate. It might not be a ton, but still, it is significant enough to warrant only using it when necessary. He needs a light switch that is smart enough to resist his thoughtless finger as it goes to turn on the light out of habit.

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    • Smart switches typically work by making the process of turning on the light more challenging.
      By: Yoanna Boyadzhieva
      Smart switches typically work by making the process of turning on the light more challenging.