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Blue Pillar retrofits, not replaces, for IoT energy management

IoT energy management is slowly advancing, but one company hopes its retrofitting -- not replacing -- solution will help speed things up.

Raise the subject of the internet of things and one of the most oft-cited use cases is smart energy management. Yet unlike consumer markets where customers are apt to ditch something just to hop on the latest high-tech bandwagon, commercial buildings and facilities are much slower to change course, regardless of the prospect for significant savings.

That's the strategy underlying Blue Pillar's IoT energy management play. The 10-year old company, a veteran of the first wave of building automation, very early on carved out a role helping companies connect the various assets in a facility, initially taking aim at hospitals needing to meet compliance requirements for their emergency power systems, and eventually tapping into a larger audience to facilitate IoT energy management, according to Tom Ehart, senior marketing manager at Blue Pillar.

Changing things with IoT

Unlike early SCADA and building automation systems, which were mainly proprietary and required a heavy dose of custom programming and deployment, Blue Pillar entered the space by differentiating its solution as something that would simplify a labor-intensive, custom site-by-site initiative. "In those days, you could end up with a final deliverable that was only as good as the product engineer assigned to you by the vendor," Ehart said. "We eliminate that variability and ensure the repeatability and quality of what's deployed."

Fast forward a decade and Blue Pillar is still touting its connectivity capabilities, but in the context of an IoT-driven world where low-cost sensors and more ubiquitous wireless and cellular connectivity are opening up more possibilities for connecting assets. According to a report by Navigant Research, the market for building energy management systems is expected to grow from $2.8 billion in 2016 to $10.8 billion by 2024.

Blue Pillar's big pitch is around integration, enabling it to retrofit existing building equipment with IoT functionality instead of requiring companies to shutter expensive infrastructure and start IoT energy management from scratch. "In reality, building people don't replace equipment every five years," Ehart said. "They don't go and replace equipment because integration or connectivity is important to them. The equipment could be there for 30 years."

In reality, building people don't replace equipment every five years. They don't go and replace equipment because integration -- or connectivity -- is important to them. The equipment could be there for 30 years.
Tom Ehartsenior marketing manager, Blue Pillar

As a bridge between the old and new worlds, Blue Pillar touts its platform as a uniform, vendor-agnostic foundation used to connect and control equipment in addition to collecting data within and across facilities regardless of proprietary protocols and standards. The platform sits in the middle of the stack, Ehart explained, serving as a single IoT energy management solution for connecting up metering, electrical and mechanical assets within a facility, and designed as software-agnostic so it can work with any Dashboard, visualization or control software platform for analytics on the other end, he said. Given the current hubbub over IoT, there's now a plethora of cloud-based energy management tools, perhaps as many as 100, Ehart added.

Modern-age IoT energy management

In the modern age of IoT, energy-management-seeking customers are turning to the Blue Pillar platform to improve the reliability and resiliency of their power assets; to take full control over their energy if they are managing their power on-site as a microgrid; and for energy efficiency and cost reduction, likely the more mainstream application.

The deployment starts with a fully automated, electronic survey using the Aurora survey engine, which provides a full asset accounting and creates a budget for the implementation. Instead of custom PLCs, which also require highly-specialized programmers and, typically, a clipboard-based asset management approach, the Aurora Energy Gateway retrofits existing assets with the right protocols and secure IP connectivity, Ehart explained.

"We are the connectivity piece and focused on unlocking the power of real-time energy data and getting up a platform," Ehart explained. "There are so many tools out there in different niches, no company could provide an end-to-end solution."

Given its decade-old connectivity foundation, Blue Pillar also opted to modernize and build out its own IoT capabilities versus leveraging any of the newer development platforms. "Ten years ago, none of those platforms existed," Ehart said, adding that "we will partner where it makes sense as to not recreate the wheel."

Houston Methodist, a long-time Blue Pillar customer, got its start with the company to help automate and meet compliance regulations governing its emergency power supply systems, the standby network of generators and switches that ensure power is available to hospitals around the clock, regardless of a disaster. The hospital slowly moved into IoT to trade up manual monitoring of its backup systems across its campus for automated processes. Today, the hospital is looking to build on that success by adding additional building assets to its digital energy network, including doubling the number of connected meters so it can begin to evaluate real-time energy data as a means of reducing consumption and lowering energy costs.

"As with many of our customers," Ehart said, "Once they experience a project and see how the underlying Aurora platform changes the way they can do things in facilities, they identify five other things to connect."

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