EnerNOC, the country’s biggest demand response provider, has built a solid business helping commercial and industrial customers turn down power to meet grid needs. With 5,900 customers and about 8,300 megawatts of commercial and industrial load under management, or about 2 percent of the country’s C&I base, it’s also got a lot of data on the building-grid energy nexus -- and it’s putting it to use in new and interesting ways.
Several announcements in the past month highlight how the Boston-based company is adapting its technology platform for use in “big data” applications, ranging from managing 200-millisecond frequency regulation in Canada to detecting faults in building HVAC systems as part of its energy efficiency business, EfficiencySMART.
At the same time, EnerNOC has launched an open developers platform (EnerNOC Open), with a focus on standards like OpenADR and Green Button, two common sets of rules for managing energy data. It’s also offering software-as-a-service options for utilities to white-label some of the company’s technology, in ways that expand beyond its core demand response business.
As CEO Tim Healy put it during EnerNOC's quarterly earnings conference call last week, “Our technology strategy is designed to make EnerNOC the cloud-based energy data system of record for commercial, institutional and investor enterprises.” That’s a pretty tall order -- but EnerNOC does have some interesting pieces to make it happen.
I recently spoke with Hugh Scandrett, EnerNOC’s vice president of engineering and former executive at companies including Kronos, Ounce Labs, IBM Rational, DSC Communications, and Nortel, to get an update on this next-generation demand response/energy efficiency vision. Here are some highlights:
1) Expanding big data analytics, from buildings to farmlands. EnerNOC’s EfficiencySMART business, which serves about 200 million square feet of commercial and industrial space in about 200 buildings across the country, comes with a set of cloud-based analytics that can crunch meter and building data to find places where building systems have broken down. It’s called automated fault detection (AFD), and right now the company is using it to detect things like stuck air valves, worn-out sensors and other anomalies that make buildings waste energy, all from streams of data, Scandrett said.
EnerNOC is about to file patents on several aspects of that AFD technology, and delivers it to customers today, though it hasn’t yet automated the system to respond to those faults -- right now, that’s handled by EnerNOC’s engineers and the respective customers involved. There’s a lot of competition in that building analytics space, with startups such as Viridity Energy, SCIenergy, BuildingIQ, SkyFoundry, Agilis and many others competing against -- and working with -- giants like IBM, Johnson Controls and Honeywell.
At the same time, EnerNOC is looking at applying the same fault detection principle to the irrigation pumps and center-pivot systems monitored by M2M Communications, the Idaho-based startup that EnerNOC acquired in 2011. Scandrett said that EnerNOC has devised a way to connect M2M’s existing cellular-based assets into its newest management platform, which allows it to run diagnostics on thousands of far-off, critically important water pumps and other farm gear. Being able to know when a pump’s about to break down is a valuable piece of data, after all.
2) Forming partnerships on the big data front. While EnerNOC has its own set of patents pending on its big data technology, it’s also turning to new partners to help it out. Take last month’s news of its partnership with Numenta, a Redwood City, Calif.-based “machine intelligence” startup that’s been working with EnerNOC on problems like fault detection and better optimizing demand assets for specialty grid needs.
Numenta has been working with EnerNOC for some time in its Alberta, Canada frequency regulation project, Scandrett said. That’s a 150-megawatt program that turns power up and down not in hours or minutes, but in less than a second, to better balance grid frequency -- a high-speed, high-reliability service usually provided by generation assets.
EnerNOC isn’t the first to provide a fast-reacting demand response capability -- we’ve seen projects from the likes of Honeywell, Viridity Energy, Enbala Networks, Blue Pillar, Powerit Solutions and others managing power loads to balance the grid in this way. But EnerNOC, which is also working on fast demand response in Texas and the U.K., as well as a DOE grant-funded wind power-balancing project with the Bonneville Power Administration, could definitely put all the big data tools it has at hand to use, and that includes partners, Scandrett said.
3) Opening the platform for new tech collaborations and business models. Last month, EnerNOC quietly launched its “EnerNOC Open” portal, which Scandrett described as the company’s center for its work on standards such as OpenADR, ZigBee Smart Energy and XMPP, the messaging protocol that EnerNOC uses for its PowerTalk machine-to-machine communications.
Beyond that, “It’s also a portal for collaboration,” he said. EnerNOC has existing partnerships with lots of building automation system vendors, metering and telecommunications partners and other specialists in the various industries and subsystems it works with, but it’s also open to new inquiries, he said. So far, the portal has seen about 3,000 unique visitors as of last week, a bit more than he’d expected.
One of EnerNOC Open’s first tasks will be to make available a big mass of customer-side energy data -- all anonymized and scrubbed to protect data security and privacy, of course -- that it has collected over the years. Think of a library of how thousands of C&I customers have managed their energy and demand response needs, all available in a common format. EnerNOC plans to make its first release available in the White House-supported Green Button format.
In the meantime, EnerNOC has been putting its technology into the hands of utility customers in new ways. Last month, EnerNOC announced the availability of “white-labeling” for utilities that want to use the company’s technology platform on their own, or as a cloud-hosted service. That’s different from how EnerNOC aggregates customers and then bids into demand response markets today -- but it’s also a way to tap new revenue streams.
EnerNOC has also announced its first new customer for its software-as-a-service offering, Australian electricity retailer ERM Power. In this case, ERM will manage customer recruitment and contracting activities, while EnerNOC will do program implementation and operations via its new network operations center (the “NOC” in EnerNOC) in Melbourne.