Blue Pillar, a startup with software to network and control building backup generators and critical power systems, is looking for more partners to help it put its expertise to use on the grid side of the meter, and add distributed energy resources to the mix -- and it’s raising money to make it happen.
On Friday, the Indianapolis-based company announced $10 million in financing from new investors GXP Investments and Elevate Ventures, along with existing investors EnerTech Capital, Allos Ventures, Arsenal Venture Partners, and Claremont Creek Ventures. The funding comes on top of $14 million raised in 2015 and about $10 million raised previously, bringing total investment to about $34 million.
Blue Pillar got its start in 2006 building software to test and control backup generators and power equipment for hospitals, military bases and other critical sites. From there, it has expanded its expertise to HVAC, lighting, and other building energy assets, and collecting and integrating their multiple protocols and data sets into an cloud-based, whole-building energy analytics and control platform.
As of the end of 2016, the company had just under 600 customer sites using its Aurora software platform, representing a 400 percent growth over the past five years. Through most of the company’s history, those customers have deployed the technology under their own auspices, CEO Tom Willie said in an interview this week. “We have hundreds of facilities that have deployed as the purchaser of our product,” including Duke University Health System, Tenet Healthcare, Comcast, Texas A&M University, and in the past year, Wal-Mart and Target.
But it’s also growing a significant share of business through its partnership with NRG Energy, he said. This type of arrangement, wherein Blue Pillar provides the software and its energy services partners provide the customers, is “really where our focus is in 2017,” he said.
While Blue Pillar hasn’t named any other energy services partners beyond NRG, it’s expecting to make some announcements in the coming weeks, he said. “We have a very mature product line -- we’ve been around for 11 years,” he said. “It’s primarily about scaling up on the sales side and increasing the amount of verticals we’re selling to.”
Blue Pillar’s software can analyze and improve energy performance within buildings or across portfolios of buildings, as well as offer them the tools to participate in demand response programs, as customers in Florida, Texas and New York have been doing for some years now.
Putting it in the hands of an energy services company or energy retailers like NRG allows for more sophisticated uses, such as managing on-site generation and shaping consumption to optimize energy arbitrage and demand-related costs. We’ve seen quite a bit of interest from energy services providers in this kind of technology expertise, if last year’s acquisitions of PowerSecure by Southern Company or Powerit Solutions by Customized Energy Solutions are any indication.
Most of Blue Pillar’s behind-the-meter assets are backup generators, which are a hefty resource in their own right. Demand response providers like EnerNOC and Comverge/CPower have built a significant portion of their business on them, and partners such as Tangent Energy and Cummins are standardizing the interface between on-site power and grid energy markets.
But Blue Pillar is also capable of integrating solar PV, batteries, fuel cells and other distributed energy resources into its platform, he noted. On that front, “We’re also seeing a lot more interest from what I would call application solution providers -- people who sell DERMS [distributed energy resource management software] platforms, or demand response solutions."
This class of potential partner ranges from startups like Enbala and AutoGrid to grid giants like Siemens and General Electric, with footholds in both the facility side and the utility side of the equation. “They have inevitably figured out that for those platforms to sell in volume, they have to go and connect things behind the meter," he said.