CEO explains value of behind-meter DER connectivity
Smart Grid Today, February 9, 2016 -Blue Pillar did a major upgrade of its behind-the-meter IOT connectivity platform called Aurora – that monitors and controls C&I technology for DR and energy management – by adding multiple communications protocols and an API interface so utilities and other energy providers can use it to engage DER within their customer's facilities, the connectivity firm said this morning. The new version of Aurora is "the world's first self-configurable energy network of things," that connects and controls distributed energy assets, Blue Pillar said.
"We have… historically sold to the utilities' biggest customers," Blue Pillar CEO Tom Willie told us in an interview yesterday, adding that it followed to make a version utilities and energy providers could sell to and use with their customers. By adding some existing communications protocols used by DER technologies and an open API to communicate with existing and future applications, the IOT platform could help those firms manage the growing fleet of behind-the-meter DER at their C&I customers' facilities.
Blue Pillar is marketing the system to classic IOUs and many other entities that do not fall easily into a category, Willie explained. They include "people that have responsibility for revenue creation in the customer arena… – your unregulated businesses within the utilities, the retail energy service providers, the munis, the co-ops – people that are strongly concerned with revenue creation and services that they can sell to customers."
For these entities "we are providing a complete service engagement and application framework for them to take into their customers and we know it works because we've been selling to their customers. We know that we can help them differentiate their offerings and connect to assets and bring that information back up in ways that they can actually provide value to the end client."
Energy retailers have long offered DR services to differentiate themselves and add value for their customers, but that has grown to include energy management and even asset ownership, Willie said. That would entail the retail energy-service provider owning assets such as storage or DG in the customer's facility and operating it on behalf of the customer.
"As soon as they start to migrate into those systems, the recognition is, they need to have a central monitoring and dispatch platform… and that's exactly what Aurora is doing for them. So on the retail side, it's all about service and revenue creation and or churn reduction," Willie said, calling those drivers "pretty powerful."
The other new target sector for the system is big utilities that have major concerns about how DG and other DER will affect the reliability and resiliency of the grid. Aurora is giving them a way to connect behind-the-meter assets for monitoring and management in what Willie dubbed an evolution of AMI into "DGI," distributed generation infrastructure.
The challenges for grid owners to manage growth in variable, renewable generation has been talked about for years, but Willie sees the industry at a crossroads now, of regulator encouragement and the scale and economics becoming "significant enough that they are recognizing that the grid impact… is something that they can't avoid."
DERMS (distributed energy resources management system) providers are talking about solving intermittency problems from a software point of view and a utility mindset, but "in order for DERMS to be successful, you have to connect to behind-the-meter assets and that's what Blue Pillar is doing," he added.
To expand the Aurora platform to communicate with and control DG, batteries and other DER assets, Blue Pillar added connectivity with DNP 3.0, OpenADR 2.0a VEN and ICCP, the firm said today. It already supported C&I standbys OPC UA, Modbus, SNMP, LONWorks and BACnet, it added.
Another big change that came in the upgrade was to "ramp up on the cybersecurity side," he added, with "significant increases in platform cybersecurity. We've actually engaged a third-party cybersecurity organization to do cybersecurity auditing of the system and authentication." That work is focused on the challenges of delivering cybersecurity in a utility environment with central control and dispatch, Willie said.
The third big addition for the utility-ready version was adding the open API to "northbound" applications, he added. The API opens up Aurora to third-party application providers that the utility could select such as value-added services they want to bring to the customer's facility.
Or the API can connect a utility to its own SCADA systems, DERMS or another system it already has, "and they can link that to our platform to use the data from our platform – or the control on our platform – with existing systems over the existing technologies that they may have already preselected before Blue Pillar."
API open for business
The new API can control behind-the-meter assets including generation or load for DR programs by such Blue Pillar partners as Cpower, Johnson Controls' Energy Connect Group and NRG, Willie said.
QUOTABLE: SCADA or DMS systems in the regulated utility world pretty much stop at the medium voltage side. They go to the substation for sure, and in many cases in the new smart grid world, they will go to sensors on the medium voltage side, but they have never really been extended into the low voltage side and certainly never behind the meter…. And if they do that, what they're going to need is a platform that arbitrates all that chaos that occurs behind the meter – all of those protocols and asset types… and that's exactly what we do. –
Blue Pillar CEO Tom Willie in an interview
"We bring all that data up to a very easy-to-digest platform so that they can extend those systems without having to do all the integration themselves," he added.
Blue Pillar also today made available a new Facility of the Future Framework, a blueprint for addressing the energy needs of C&I customers, the firm said. The framework showcases how assets, services and applications can use open energy-network-of-things connectivity and control to create new opportunities for energy efficiency, resiliency and self-sufficiency solutions at the largest of facilities.
If a diesel generator "becomes a managed asset, and a solar panel and an inverter and a battery system and a fuel cell and all of these become systems that [utilities] have to worry about, then fundamentally their days of just talking to transformers and meters are over," Willie said.
Firm has experience
What makes Blue Pillar unique is its track record in selling and deploying systems at the big C&I customers of the energy firms. "Because we've connected so many thousands of assets over so many different vendor types and asset types, we really felt the timing was right to take that platform, modify it for what they are going to need… so that they can start to use it with their customer base," Willie said.
He shared his views with us on the how Blue Pillar got where it is today in an exclusive interview (SGT, Feb-5).
© 2016 Modern Markets Intelligence Inc. IMPORTANT: This article was reproduced from the February 9, 2016, issue of Smart Grid Today with the limited permission of the owner. To view the full story on Smart Grid Today’s website, please visit http://www.smartgridtoday.com/members/Blue-Pillar-adapts-IOT-platform-for-power-providers.cfm.