Erik Jaques meets Amit Chatterjee, CEO and founder of Hara
As politicos sang from the same non-committal hymn sheet, the Redwood City, California-start up used the occasion as a platform to announce a deal with the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) in one of the largest energy efficiency deals ever made.
Covering more than 200,000 facilities across the hydrocarbon hungry (consumption and export) yet environmentally aware and ambitious (see the multibillion tech-incubating, zero-carbon aspiring Masdar City) Emirate, the deal is expected to save $3B in energy costs over the next ten years.
Hara's 'software-as-a-service' will provide system-wide consumption monitoring as well as conservation and efficiency investment modelling, giving a holistic view of energy consumption in the region and mapping out and prioritising the necessary solutions.
As a result, a whopping eight 500MW conventional natural gas power plants can be deferred, while total annual energy savings are projected to top 12,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) by 2020. This would save almost 10M tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere - the equivalent to taking 1.9M cars off the road.
While the magnitude of the deal has caught the eye, it indicative of a wider trend of Hara love across the world. Having only opened for business in June 2009 (after 18 months in 'stealth' mode), the company is already making an impact in 97 countries, and has racked up an impressive client list that includes Coca-Cola, Hasbro, NewsCorp, Safeway, not to mention the cities of Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Palo Alto.
Palo Alto serves as a fine case in point of the Hara modus operandi. One hundred and sixty ongoing projects pertaining to areas of sustainability, energy efficiency and natural resource management are currently under the microscope.
With the help of Hara's products, city employees in 13 departments ascertain which facilities are the biggest emission culprits and use them as best practice examples for other departments to tackle further efficiency initiatives.
In the first 12 months, this approach yielded reductions of electricity use by 8%, natural gas by 25%, and solid waste by 22% - leading an overall carbon emission reduction of 12%.
Amit Chatterjee says that Hara's aggregatory data magic resulted in US$550,000 of cost savings in the first nine months.
Hara's work hasn't gone unnoticed - its website is heaving with accolades; scoring the No.7 slot in The Guardian and the Cleantech Group's annual Cleantech 100 report is a particular favourite of Chatterjee's.
On a personal level, the ever-convivial, hyper-energetic Chatterjee has emerged as something of a go-to guru for all things pertaining to hi-tech energy efficiency in the US, a role that resulted in an invite to the Whitehouse in July 2009 for a confab about America's "clean energy future" with President Obama and a selection of CEOs working on the green cutting edge.
Much of Hara's impressive growth is linked with the increasing rigour of environmental legislation across the globe. The UK, in particular, is proving a highly lucrative example of this, with policies such as the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme starting to wield a considerable influence and make Hara's track-record, scalability and accuracy a very attractive proposition indeed.
"The UK's leadership around this topic has made it much more palatable for organizations that are global in nature to really take a serious look at results-driven energy efficiency reduction," Chatterjee notes.
While it has been an impressive growth-story, it has come as no surprise to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner, Al Gore, who wasted no time in backing the company once its business plan was made clear. To date Hara has secured US$20M in venture capital funding from two rounds of investment.
"Hara's business metrics, however you look at them, however you highlight them, show we've done very well for a Silicon Valley energy management company," says Chatterjee confidently.
So why does Hara (which is Sanskrit for "fresh green") stand out from a crowd of the around 152 companies claiming to offer similar services?
To Chaterjee the answer is simple. No other company offers an "end to end software as service" that encompasses every aspect of the resource consumption and environmental impact - from energy and water to waste and beyond.
Predicated on a state-of-the-art cloud infrastructure, Hara's eminently configurable applications yield what Chatterjee calls the "organisational metabolic index": a lucid, auditable, malleable dataset that tells it like it unflinchingly is before setting out the mitigative actions needed to reap any subsequent capital and operational expenditure rewards.
Through its cumulative data-gathering and ongoing service refinement, Hara believes that it has the opportunity to create an unprecedented body of knowledge that will have a dramatic influence on the process and industry of environmental impact reduction.
"Nobody in the market had talked about a comprehensive view of how you actually solve this energy problem and how you engage in it in a fundamental way where it is not a discussion around faith or beliefs but economics and environmental incentives," says Chatterjee.
Hara has big ambitions moving forward. Of the 4T kWh currently being consumed in the US market per year, Chatterjee estimates that up to 1.5T are in Hara's commercial and industrial playing field. In the next three to five years, he wants to take responsibility for driving down 200B of those kWh, making Hara one of the largest virtual utility projects on the planet.
"That's our expectation - that's our big hairy audacious goal," he says. Chatterjee is quick to add that by no means is his mission all about billions of customers, login rates and ad revenue. His mission is to drive kW hours out of the system.
"The mission, the focus is to create sustainable businesses on a global scale," he explains.
"It's not about how big Hara can get, it's about how big an opportunity we can address."
Hara has already staked its claim as one of the absolute front-runners in a crowded field of software-guided energy efficiency companies, but for all the competition it is still the humble spreadsheet - beloved by many a sustainability manager across the world - that is the biggest conceptual hurdle.
To buck this trend, time needs to be spent educating clients about the enormous opportunities that lie in wait once the habitual ad hoc reporting is ditched.
"It is about shifting to an enterprise wide system that allows companies to tie sustainability to financial improvements," he suggests.
Chatterjee is a successful veteran and survivor of the 1990s dot-com Wild West. His start-up CV includes a consulting firm to help Fortune 500 companies embrace the web, and an instant messenger service sold for a hefty whack to now defunct internet portal Excite@Home.
His next move was to "put on a suit" and walk into the management consulting firm McKinsey, after which he took on the role as head of software giant SAP's governance, risk and compliance unit (during his tenure revenue increased from $30M to $250M).
Eventually the "start up bug" returned as he realized just how big an opportunity there was in charting corporate inefficiency, specifically through telling a single version of the truth of an organization's environmental footprint.
"I realised it's not all about rolling up your sleeves putting new windows and solar panels on the building," he explains.
"The number one focus was that I could help generate transparency. If we could create transparency around how organizations work and metabolized energy and water, we would be able to create a very compelling set of software and services that would allow Hara to reach the trajectory it is on today, which is a global player around the topic of energy and environmental management."
Hara's evolution is steady and entirely logical. Three years ago (2008) was about identifying what the customer wanted to measure. Two years ago (2009) saw that supplemented to achieve consistent global reporting on all internal footprints.
Last year heralded the next level of "deep-dive" towards truly granular dataset juggling. For example, understanding the energy expenditure from all of the components of, say, a meeting room.
The scaleable opportunities are intriguing - Chatterjee talks excitedly about scenarios like a factory with 27 different energy consuming machines and being able to pinpoint which is the biggest drain at the press of a button.
Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done to get Hara to where Chatterjee truly wants it to be.
"To a large degree what Hara has started with and what it has emerged to is only a portion of a broader, longer story that requires a lot of hard work," he says.
"We're not as sexy as social networking or online coupons, but nevertheless we have lasting impact that fundamentally takes time to incubate."
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