Fat Spaniel: Distributed energy meets Web 2.0

The maker of a Web application for monitoring solar arrays and other distributed energy sources is publishing APIs to encourage third-party applications.

Fat Spaniel Technologies thinks the distributed energy business needs some more Web savvy.

The start-up company, which has software for monitoring performance of energy-producing systems like solar panels, on Wednesday is expected to announce an "open platform" designed for sharing energy information.

Fat Spaniel's hosted monitoring application reports how well a distributed energy resource like a solar array performs against expectations. Fat Spaniel Technologies

It is publishing an application programming interface (API) designed to encourage equipment manufacturers and other software companies to build applications based on energy performance data.

For many corporate installations, energy services companies install and operate solar arrays and sell electricity they generate back to the building owner.

Using the APIs would allow a developer to write an application that took the regular electricity output and combine it with a billing program, for example.

With its Insight Manager application, Fat Spaniel already provides basic reporting information on renewable energy systems, which allows corporate customer to ensure that wind, solar, or fuel cell generators are operating as they should.

Performance information is sent via the Internet to Fat Spaniel's data centers where customers, either homeowners or corporations, can view it over the Web.

By offering a common way to present and communicate information, Fat Spaniel hopes to encourage development of more specialized applications and grow the overall distributed energy generation market, said company President and Chief Technology Officer Chris Beekhuis.

"Once we have data collected on performance from sites and devices like inverters, we or others can bring other value-added services to bear," he said.

With better data interoperability, an energy services company could collect information from inverters (the devices that convert direct current to socket-ready alternating current) built by different manufacturers. The end customer, such as as corporation or utility, could then get a consolidated view of the overall performance from its building-management system.

The APIs will also allow inverter or solar panel manufacturers to publish diagnostic information and send it over the Internet. That data could be directed right to a service technician or, conceivably, fed into a Salesforce.com support application.

Publishing APIs is a well worn strategy in the software world, which is usually done to build up a network of connected products from third parties.

Beekhuis acknowledged that there is some risk in publishing the APIs because competitors could replicate what Fat Spaniel is already doing and undercut them on price. But he said he's comfortable with the move because the company's monitoring services are already well established.

"This gives comfort to the customer that there are many choices in how they can manage their system. That really helps direct the customer away from trying to build their own," he said.

The first APIs are focused on defining data formats and getting information from energy-generating gear back to Fat Spaniel's data center.

In the future, it intends to have Web services APIs that will allow energy systems to be controlled remotely, Beekhuis said.

Right now, Fat Spaniel-monitored systems have a gateway device loaded with its software that transmits information to Fat Spaniel.

Ultimately, the company would like to have its software embedded in more inverters and other power-generating devices, he said.

 

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