Blue Pillar CEO Willie Explains Energy Management Niche

Nov 22 2013

Firm circumvents utility, offers institutional savings 

Blue Pillar sees an opening in the building-automation space left ajar by the likes of Honeywell and Johnson Controls: critical power systems. "All of those systems, the things that truly, truly impact life, safety and economic viability of a business have been under-focused and under- invested in because at the end of the day, HVAC and lighting makes us comfortable," Blue Pillar CEO Tom Willie told us last week. 

Honeywell and Johnson Controls "make their money on mechanical HVAC systems and lighting systems," while Blue Pillar has its eye on critical power systems that a building can tap into without relying on its utility, Willie explained. 

He took the helm of the Indianapolis-based firm this month after spending 10 years at smart grid firm Current Group. 

"The ideas and the terminology and the concepts that I saw at Current, really are the same here with a different end buyer" – building operators rather than utilities, he added. The two entities face similar challenges in aging workforce and infrastructure along with pressure to bring automation into their business models, Willie said. 
Blue Pillar's clients include health care centers and military facilities that need to provide their own backup power. The firm's pitch is simple and dramatic: 

QUOTABLE: If you don't have power in the first place, if you haven't invested in the critical power systems within your facility, it doesn't matter what you have your thermostat set on. – Blue Pillar CEO Tom Willie 

The Blue Pillar services center on the firm's "Digital Energy Network," which consists of software that runs on a server or a cloud and micro-servers placed on the controls of generators, switchgear and other critical power components. The firm is interested in automating anything in a building that can generate or measure power, Willie said. 

While Honeywell and Johnson Controls are not Blue Pillars' competitors, neither are DR providers, he added. Blue Pillar is an "enabler" of DR through the firm's ability to control the switches of critical power systems, he said. 

Schneider Electric subsidiary Square D, which focuses on sub-metering management, is more of a direct competitor than the HVAC firms, Willie said. "Most of the competitors that come after us are gear vendors that are trying to throw on a really small piece of software to make their gear look more valuable," he added. 

Sandy standards created  

Critical-infrastructure facilities such as hospitals and military bases are under growing pressure after Hurricane Sandy to comply with federal disaster-recovery standards, Willie noted, and therein lies Blue Pillar's market niche. 

Holding firms that own multiple hospitals are looking to consolidate their power-management systems into a centralized platform and Willie hopes to find an opportunity with such a firm in the coming months. Blue Pillar will shape its product offerings to meet this demand, he added. 
Willie was CEO of Current Group when Spanish utility-technology supplier Ormazabal bought the firm in March. Current is in good hands with Ormazabal, he told us last week. 
"I felt very comfortable that being part of a much larger entity was best for the long-term future of Current," he added. 
Smart Grid Today recently named Willie one of the 50 Smart Grid Pioneers of 2013.  

Blue Pillar has its eye on critical power systems that a building can tap into without relying on its utility.