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EnerNOC Energizes Its Customer Base and Hones Its Business Edge With JBoss
April 3, 2009
Improving the efficiency of its demand-response network that helps manage energy supply and demand
Red Hat Enterprise Linux, JBoss Enterprise Middleware
Streamlined the complex workflows involved in aligning the needs of utilities/grid operators to avoid blackouts during peak energy-consumption times and the desire of energy users to generate revenues through better managing their energy use.“It would be very difficult for us to compete successfully without jBPM. We could not deliver our solutions nearly as efficiently and cost-effectively in this extremely aggressive market without it.” –Ed Kusnitz, lead platform engineer, EnerNOC
As a leading provider of technology-enabled energy management solutions, EnerNOC is changing the way the world uses power. Through the use of advanced technologies, EnerNOC helps utilities and grid operators maintain the delicate balance between supply and demand. EnerNOC’s demand-response solution is based upon an innovative business model. It pays the more than 4,000 business and industrial organizations in its network to reduce their electricity usage during times of high demand. This decreases stress on the electric grid, preserving the reliability of a region’s electricity resources and helping to prevent blackouts and brownouts while also alleviating the need to rely on fossil fuel-burning power plants. By acting as the middleman between energy providers and consumers, EnerNOC plays an important role in allocating what can be a scarce resource, especially when weather conditions, problems with the electrical grid, or other events create unusual demand or cause unanticipated disruptions in the flow of power. EnerNOC is perfectly positioned for success due to three major trends: first, demand for energy is rapidly outpacing supply; secondly, due to regulatory and community concerns, it is difficult to build new regional power plants located close to energy users; and third, emerging regulatory trends on both national and local levels are changing utility business models with incentives that promote efficient energy practices. EnerNOC is growing exponentially. At the end of 2007, EnerNOC had approximately 1,100 megawatts under management across approximately 2,200 individual sites. It ended 2008 with more than 2,000 megawatts under management across more than 4,000 sites.
EnerNOC’s demand-response solution consists of three distinct steps: first, a customer sends out a request for additional power so as to alleviate stress on the grid or in response to high wholesale energy prices. EnerNOC takes that request and initiates actions across its network – turning out lights, turning on generators – to enable participants to follow through on their commitments to conserve power when requested. This in turn allows EnerNOC to fulfill its contracts with its customers to help reduce demand on the grid.
Prior to 2005, EnerNOC’s depended heavily on manual processes. Although certain procedures were automated, a great deal of human intervention was required to ensure that the workflow proceeded seamlessly. EnerNOC saw an opportunity to both slash operational costs, and provide greater customer service.
EnerNOC also saw an opportunity to position itself for future success. “Our strategic vision is to build highly scalable, best-of-breed technologies to support a comprehensive suite of energy management solutions and services,” said Terry Sick, vice president of product development and engineering at EnerNOC. “To accomplish this, we needed supporting technologies based upon open standards and interoperability.”
Choosing the operating system was easy: Red Hat Enterprise Linux, due to its market dominance and technical leadership, was the obvious choice. And after investigating all the options for business process management (BPM) on the market, EnerNOC decided that the JBoss jBPM solution was the best choice.
JBoss jBPM is a JBoss Enterprise Framework that delivers workflow, business process management (BPM), and process orchestration in a scalable and flexible product footprint. “We were still a startup at that point, and needed a very cost-effective solution that still provided us with all the functionality we required,” said Ed Kusnitz, lead platform engineer for EnerNOC. EnerNOC also deployed JBoss Enterprise Application Platform, which includes JBoss Application Server, Messaging, Clustering, Seam, Hibernate, and EJB3 along with MySQL to complete the solution.
For help with the JBoss implementation, EnerNOC selected Amentra, a leading provider of systems integration services for SOA, business process management, systems
development and enterprise data solutions. Amentra was acquired by Red Hat in March 2008.
Because JBoss jBPM provides all the tools and process execution engine needed to automate complex workflows in Java and Web applications, EnerNOC was able to reduce business process errors, speed process execution, and enhance overall business performance.
Today, upon receiving an email that one of its customers requires power, the now-automated workflow process is immediately triggered. This one step alone can be extraordinary complex. “A single action initiated by an utility or grid operator can impact 300 sites on our network, and each one needs its own workflow,” said Kusnitz.
For example, some organizations want to be notified in advance before their power is curtailed; others are fine if EnerNOC just takes appropriate action. “jBPM allows us to manage the state of each site very easily, while giving us transparency into the entire operation,” said Kusnitz.
“If we had to code all this ourselves, it would be very difficult to accomplish what we need to, much less see what was occurring at any particular point in time,” agreed Andre Quina, software engineer at EnerNOC. “Under jBPM we can bring up a graphical image of the state of the workflow, which immediately shows us the state of the processes.”
jBPM has also allowed EnerNOC to achieve tremendous flexibility, reliability, and scalability. “If we need to make changes to the workflow – which happens all the time – we can do that without having to go in and actually edit the code,” said Quina. “That eliminates the risk of introducing errors, and makes for much more reliable operations.” And because EnerNOC is growing so rapidly, jBPM’s ability to manage ever-greater numbers of organizations’ power capabilities has been essential. “jBPM is enabling us to meet escalating market demand for our solutions,” said Quina.
Looking ahead, EnerNOC is currently using jBPM to create the business logic involved in curtailing and restoring sites. For example, before turning off lights, an on-site generator might need to be started, and the power load transferred to that generator. “When we get this last phase automated, we’ll be able to respond even more rapidly to a request from an ISO for more power,” said Kusnitz. “In effect, our jBPM application will be transformed into a virtual generator. We’ll be able to power it on, and provide our customers with power within just a few minutes notice.”
Amentra contributed enormously to the success of the project. “Amentra’s expertise with both JBoss jBPM and the messaging layer allowed EnerNOC engineers to focus on core business logic, which is helping us prepare for future expansion into new markets,” said Sick.
What would EnerNOC do without JBoss? “It would be very difficult for us to compete successfully without jBPM,” said Kusnitz. “”We could not deliver our solutions nearly as efficiently and cost-effectively in this extremely aggressive market without it.”
Agrees Sick: “Technical innovation has been key to EnerNOC’s growth. Open source in general – and Red Hat in particular – have been behind our success in this area.”