Since its 2011 founding, AutoGrid Systems, the Silicon Valley startup that’s built a big data platform for the smart grid, has primarily gone to market with utility partners using applications that AutoGrid has built itself.

Now the firm has landed its first partner that is licensing the platform to build its own apps. NTT Data, the IT services arm of Japanese giant NTT, plans to announce Thursday that it’s entering an R&D partnership with the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup, aimed at developing “new technologies for the energy sector” based on AutoGrid’s Energy Data Platform.

While the partners aren’t disclosing specific projects they’re working on, Amit Narayan, AutoGrid CEO, said in an interview this week that the company is “looking at many different opportunities,” from the kind of smart meter and demand response integration work it’s doing for U.S. utilities, to energy management from the individual building level to the real estate portfolio level. NTT, which also has energy and facilities divisions, has “a number of marquee accounts, both in the facility space and the utility sector,” he said.

It’s likely that some of the first projects to be announced will be in Japan, he added. Japan is facing a major energy crisis in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the shutdown of its nuclear generation fleet, which has led the country to engage in a national effort to link building energy management and demand response to manage power shortfalls. It’s also starting on a major smart meter push, led by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which has tapped NTT as a partner in the effort.

But NTT also does a lot of business throughout Asia and Europe, and “we are looking at opportunities in North America, as well as in other parts of the world,” he said. “The strategic value that NTT provides to us is its global reach.”

Narayan added that the partners intend to have their first working applications ready for beta testing by early 2014. That’s a pretty fast turnaround for this kind of massive data management work, which involves large-scale machine-to-machine communications, structured and unstructured data, and real-time, closed-loop analytics.

“For the first time, this is opening our platform to third-party developers, [allowing them] to build their own applications for one-tenth the cost it would have taken to do it themselves,” he said. While most of AutoGrid’s work to date has been built around its demand response optimization and management system (DROMS), “now that same technology is being used by third-party developers to do new things.”

Thursday’s announcement would appear to put AutoGrid and NTT Data more closely into competition with another big data contender with its eyes on serving a broad array of energy-related businesses. That’s C3 Energy, the Silicon Valley startup that’s raised more than $100 million in venture capital investment to build a big data platform and supporting applications.

C3 started with demand-side energy and resource management applications being used by customers including Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, General Electric, Constellation Energy and Masdar City. Earlier this year, it launched its smart-grid-focused line of applications, with California utility Pacific Gas & Electric as its marquee customer.

AutoGrid, by contrast, started with its smart grid, utility-focused demand response capabilities, and is now envisioning expanding that roster of functions to a broader facilities focus. “Looking at the total cost of electricity in a building, how can you optimize that? You may have different rate plans available, you may be able to shift your loads,” Narayan said. “There’s a lot of flexibility in how you optimize your energy costs.”

AutoGrid has also raised a lot less money than C3. It won a $3.5 million grant from the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E agency and a smaller grant from the California Energy Commission to test its big data capabilities, and in October 2012 landed a $9 million Series B round from venture capital firms Foundation Capital and Voyager Capital, as well as from Stanford University, where Narayan served as director of smart grid research.

Its utility customers include Palo Alto’s municipal utility, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Austin Energy and Oklahoma Gas & Electric, the latter via its partnership with smart meter networking company Silver Spring Networks, which shares Foundation Capital as an investor.

AutoGrid’s approach also differs from C3’s, in that AutoGrid plans to go to market via partners that can build their own applications on top of AutoGrid’s underlying data platform. C3 has, to date, primarily talked about applications that it has purpose-built for the industries it’s serving.

“We’re not trying to build it all ourselves,” is how Narayan put it. NTT Data is the first partner to license AutoGrid’s software platform to tackle this challenge, but Narayan said to expect more news on this front coming soon.