Time has critical implications for the distributed energy infrastructure that Greentech Media has dubbed the grid edge.

Electricity operates by its own inflexible split-second rules, which means that sensors, networks and software being built to manage solar PV, batteries, smart thermostats, plug-in electric vehicles and other grid-edge agents must be fast, accurate and synchronized.

This kind of environment deserves a data management structure that puts the temporal dimension front and center, according to TempoIQ. Founded in 2011 as TempoDB, the Chicago-based startup has created a cloud-based, time-series database platform now being used to track and analyze data for industries ranging from online and mobile device management to solar and smart grid.

Earlier this year, TempoIQ took a new name to mark its new focus on distributed sensor management software, built on the same cloud-based, time-series platform. Energy industry customers include Midwest solar developer and energy-efficiency services provider Brightergy, which is using the software for customer data management and presentation, and Silver Spring Networks (SSNI), for an as-yet-undisclosed smart meter data analysis project.

In all cases, TempoIQ is providing something that today’s most advanced, cloud-enabled data management platforms lack, according to Andrew Cronk, TempoIQ’s co-founder and CEO. That’s the decision to take time as its core organizing principal, and work outwards from there.

Greentech Media’s Soft Grid 2014 conference next month in Menlo Park, Calif. will be highlighting the latest developments in the move toward real-time, distributed monitoring and controls in the energy sector, and how broader trends in the “internet of things,” are coming into play. TempoIQ’s bet is that its novel approach will yield speed and functionality advantages for all manner of companies moving toward the IOT future, and help it build relationships with key technology providers in this emerging space, such as Silver Spring and Cisco, Cronk said.

“We are definitely betting that more and more systems in the future will become real-time,” he said. “However, if you look at what you call batch processing, that’s how utilities have operated for a long, long time,” which is why TempoIQ started on the task of organizing historical data on a temporal basis.

“We would be the place where, when the data flows out, it rests here -- a database of record, if you will,” he said.

But unlike traditional data historian systems from the likes of OSIsoft, “we always respond in real time,” he said. TempoIQ uses methods like distributed temporal indexing to organize all the incoming data so that it can be analyzed on the fly, as well as managing the vagaries of the wired and wireless networks that enable data collection from these sensor environments.

“The real challenge is network communications,” he said. “This idea of poor network communication is built into this, and we have to account for it.” TempoIQ makes use of RESTful data architectures and new protocols like MQTT to integrate with various network management and meter data management software platforms, he noted.

Solar inverters, smart meters, wireless thermostats and building automation systems are among the devices that could provide valuable energy intelligence, if their data is properly managed. Take Brightergy, which is using TempoIQ to help it manage all manner of distributed energy devices at customer sites around the country, said Daniel Keith, the company’s vice president of technology.

“We are one of the largest solar providers in the Midwest,” he said. “But the reality is that Brightergy is an energy efficiency company,” with partners like Black & Veatch delivering a whole range of energy services to its commercial and industrial solar customers. It’s also working with microturbine company Capstone on combined solar and gas-fired generation, and providing financing for its projects, which requires forecasting and other advanced analytics.

“Think about everything we just talked about -- consumption from the grid, or the solar array producing energy, or a microturbine,” he said. “Heck, it could be a light socket. The one commonality across all of that is that we need to track data over time. That’s precisely what TempoIQ is all about.”

To be sure, other cloud-based data architectures like Hadoop and Cassandra are available for these kinds of massive data management tasks, and Brightergy is making use of all available options, he said. For example, “I’m not going to use TempoIQ to database my client's user information -- it’s not built for that. It’s built for pulling data from a device in a regular, time-based format.”

Cronk noted that TempoIQ faces “two classes of competitors. One is the legacy market, the data historian market,” with platforms like OSIsoft PI and GE’s Proficy holding an entrenched position in the utility and energy industry. TempoIQ hasn’t gone up against these vendors in competitive bids yet, he noted -- “We’re trying to go after the more greenfield opportunities in smart grid and solar.”

The other competition comes from platforms built by customers in-house, often using Cassandra or Hadoop, he said. That’s an expensive proposition, and he’s hoping that more customers will seek the expertise of a company like TempoIQ, particularly as they run up against the constraints that these architectures face in handling real-time data flows. TempoIQ is also working on data compression technology to help customers avoid down-sampling or cold-storing the majority of the data they’re pulling from their sensor networks, he noted.

TempoIQ partner Silver Spring declined to discuss how it’s working with the startup, but one guess is that it’s playing a role in the smart grid networking company’s SilverLink Sensor Network platform -- a network architecture that’s pushing analytics and control capabilities down to smart meters, sensors and other grid devices.

Distributed intelligence is a big new trend in smart grid, and expect to hear a lot more about how TempoIQ is working on this challenge with Silver Spring as our Soft Grid 2014 conference approaches.

To learn how to effectively manage, analyze and take action on the data generated by grid networks, join Greentech Media at The Soft Grid: Data, Analytics and the Software-Defined Utility conference on September 10-11, 2014 in Menlo Park, Calif. Looking forward to seeing you there!