Slowly but surely, more and more of the technology that manages energy use in office buildings, retail stores, factories and other facilities is being connected to the cloud. Just how much control those buildings want to hand over to the remote computing platforms they’re connecting to is another matter.

Powerit Solutions is the latest example. The quiet but significant player in industrial energy management and demand response last week launched a new version of its Spara EMS platform that represents the first step in moving to a cloud-based platform.

There’s still a ways to go. The new launch is connecting some unnamed “early adopters” to a pre-release version of its cloud-based energy management platform, providing a web-based dashboard that links multiple sites’ real-time energy use with utility rate schedules and programs and demand response programs.

Powerit will still be installing servers at its customers’ sites and integrating them on the spot, of course. The Seattle-based company’s technology now sits inside about 150 facilities, monitoring and controlling energy use of big gear like steel furnaces and factory lines -- the kind of systems you can’t just turn over to remote management.

Powerit has raised about $13 million from investors including Siemens, steel company ArcelorMittal, @Ventures and Expansion Capital Partners to build this line of business. Its technology is now being used to control power use by demand response aggregator EnerNOC, among others, indicating that it’s already being integrated on a larger scale.

But last week’s announcement marks the start of a slow “migration” toward giving customers with multiple facilities the ability to manage them as an integrated whole, all from Powerit’s own cloud, said CEO Kevin Klustner.

That kind of ability to compare individual facilities against one another and track their energy use in real time is not unique to Powerit, of course, We’ve seen startups like SCIEnergy and BuildingIQ take on similar tasks, while giants like Schneider Electric, Johnson Controls, Honeywell and IBM are taking similar enterprise-wide approaches to the building energy management challenge.

Linking up real-time energy control adds another level of complexity, one that isn’t yet ready to be handed over to the cloud. But the first step could come in linking Powerit’s customers to the increasingly complex and real-time pricing schemes, demand response programs and incentives that utilities are offering today, Klustner said.

While most of Powerit’s customers still participate in traditional demand response markets that provide plenty of advance notice for power-down signals, others are participating in economic markets or ancillary services markets that require power loads to turn down at a moment’s notice.

Powerit’s goal of integrating utility pricing programs and demand response calls with each facility’s automated process for reacting to those signals sounds a lot like the concept of automated demand response. We’ve got a lot of contenders -- EnerNOC, Honeywell, Siemens, Johnson Controls, Constellation Energy and Viridity Energy, to name a few -- trying to deliver on that promise.

Another interesting potential use of a cloud platform involves Powerit’s plans to embed its controls in industrial devices themselves. That’s what it’s been doing with furnace maker Inductotherm since last year, and Klustner said last week that Powerit is working with other equipment makers, as well as manufacturers of programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that go into industrial automation systems.

As more and more devices come with Powerit’s technology inside, so to speak, the opportunities to link them up expand, he said. So do the business models available, he noted. While Powerit now licenses its technology and delivers turnkey projects to customers, it’s looking at new subscription models in the future, Klustner said.

Such technology deployment-as-a-service models are shaping up to be a hot trend for 2012, with smart grid players like Tendril, Aclara, Calico Energy and Silver Spring Networks, building energy tech startups like SCIEnergy and Serious Energy, and giants like General Electric, SAIC, Lockheed Martin and Honeywell getting into the game. It will be interesting to see how Powerit’s platform emerges as a contender, and potential partner, with these myriad offerings.

Tags: cisco, demand response, energy efficiency, enernoc, general electric, green building, honeywell, ibm, investors, johnson controls, lockheed martin, powerit, saic, schneider electric, siemens