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Pulse Energy: Buildings, Like Cars, Need Efficiency Tune-ups

Buildings, like cars, need constant tune-ups to make sure they’re running efficiently, says David Helliwell, co-founder of 4-year-old startup Pulse Energy, which makes building energy management systems. Fortunately for Pulse Energy’s customers, buildings don’t need the time-consuming, oil change-type of maintenance, and Pulse Energy can use software to make sure a building’s energy monitoring is performing optimally in real time, says Helliwell. The Vancouver, Canada-based startup has been doing one of these so-called “continuous commissioning” projects for Canadian utility BC Hydro, and Helliwell says the company is working on “a few big deals in California,” too.

While Pulse Energy might not be a big name in the U.S. smart grid ecosystem, the company has done well for itself in its domestic market, including installing its combo of software and hardware in 10 buildings for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, among them the speed skating and hockey stadiums and the athletes’ village. Pulse also has a background with the University of British Columbia, developing software that could make sense of energy data from the university’s 300 campus buildings.

Pulse’s system has a few key parts: One, collecting the data from the building through inputs (Siemens’ and Cisco’s energy management systems, smart meters, etc.); two, using its servers to analyze and calculate data, like crunching the numbers to find out how much energy and money the energy management system is saving the building owner; three, creating a dashboard so facility managers and building occupants can see the energy data; and four, creating energy reports so building owners can dig into specific areas of their facility that need fine-tuning.

Pulse Energy is an example of a company developing next-generation applications, while much of its services piggyback off of already installed hardware and energy management systems. Helliwell says while some part of the service needs hardware, “As much as possible, we like to use existing systems.” Utility-focused applications are one of the next untapped opportunities (for a more in-depth look, check out our GigaOM Pro subscription service).

For example, UBC’s buildings already had a newly zinstalled Siemens’ (s SI) building management system, and had just gotten an efficiency upgrade when Pulse came along. But the building managers couldn’t “make heads or tails” of the information that emerged, said Helliwell. UBC asked Pulse Energy to help it communicate the energy info to the building occupants, so Pulse developed a real-time dashboard for their systems. Pulse has also partnered with Cisco and integrates with its building mediator tool. As Warren Weiss, partner at Foundation Capital, put it in during our smart grid bunker event last week, the new generation of smart grid startups would be wise to stand on the backs of the giants in this industry.

If Pulse Energy can sign up those big deals in California that it mentioned to us it could mean the beginning of moving beyond its Canadian roots. This year Pulse plans to double the size of its team, and while the company has been bootstrapped to date, Helliwell says he gets calls from venture capitalists on a weekly basis, mostly from the Bay Area and Massachusetts.

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