Powerful solutions

0

India has a power deficit of 12 percent with almost 300 million people living without electricity. Conversely, transmission losses amount to 1.5 percent of India’s gross domestic product. In such a scenario, achieving energy efficiency is most important. This is where Ecolibrium Energy, a smart-grid startup aimed at enabling consumers to manage power consumption in real-time, comes in. Founder Harit Soni takes us along as he describes his journey of innovation.

Iearned my first rupee by trading WWF (World Wrestling Federation) trading cards in classes 6th and 7th, as there used to be a huge craze in those times for these cards. I had located a reseller who would sell me at a low price and I used to sell them at higher rates to the guys in school, in a small town in Kutch. That was how it all began. With the Gujarati inheritance, I was a natural at business, but was unsure about the domain where I should begin. During my 12th grade, a friend and I decided to begin a business in import-export of metal scrap, the Kandla port was near, so there was no logistics issue. It worked for some time but realisation dawned upon me that it was not sustainable and I was not bringing a change in the world at all, apart from making some money.

Sustainability the key
Right at the onset of my career it was imprinted upon me how sustainability is a very important part of not just being a businessman, but also a business leader willing to bring an impact in the way the world works. After completing my graduation in 2004 from the Bangalore Institute of Technology, I joined Infosys. Those were exciting days, the Indian IT industry was beginning to show its dominance in the world and the coolest job was to be a software engineer. Unfortunately, my continued zeal to start something on my own led me to quit after 3 months. After this, I joined AIESEC in Canada for a year, travelling to various places in the United States and Canada and got a basic understanding of how various international companies work. After returning to India, I began working at KPMG from 2005, till end of 2008, in their business consulting division. This stint of work helped me a lot in understanding the nitty-gritties of business processes which would help me in the days to come.

Since early 2008, while I was working with KPMG, the carbon credit industry was growing in India and it was the right time to begin focusing on the start-up I had been planning for a long time. So I quit working in late 2008 and registered Ecolibrium Energy to start carbon credit trading, with diversified focus on bio-diesel and solar energy, both of which had just started taking baby steps. As an early entrant it would not just be helpful in building a brand but also increase our industry knowledge base that would solidify our technology base. Soon we realised that algae based bio-diesel was too early for its time and carbon credits would soon be phased away to focus on solar.

We did a course correction and shifted our focus to smart grids and solar. We worked for almost two years in developing a superior product which can be field tested while along the same time we were in talks with CIIE (Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship), IIM (Indian Institute of Management), Ahmedabad, for incubation support. In 2009 we received incubation support from CIIE, and were introduced to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. After working tirelessly for almost two years we managed to have a stable product which will enable on-site monitoring as well as controlling of multiple equipments.

The first breakthrough
Our first breakthrough came in the form of a pilot smart grid project for Torrent Power – a power utility company in Ahmedabad, at the site of the Gujarat Secretariat. After this project, since we were attached with CIIE, we received another project for a Smart Micro-grid from the Solar Energy Centre, Gurgaon. This was also a pilot which showcased a unique smart urban Micro-grid, as opposed to rural Micro-grids that is now a norm in various villages. While working for such projects, there was a growing clamour among the industry to provide a streamlined energy accounting procedure for proper energy management.

Those days, it was just one person, who used to sit and create multiple daily reports for some of our initial customers, and provide them an overview of their power consumption and where the fault areas lay. We decided to replicate such a system for the industry and hence SmartSense was born. Our first customer was CETP (Common Effluence Treatment Plant) at Odhav in Ahmedabad. CETP had a problem of monitoring their power consumption on a real-time basis, which our system could do. The solution was unique since it didn’t involve the need of an existing IT infrastructure or installing any software at the client’s end. It was just one device to be connected at any point where monitoring was necessary, and the data could be accessed through any internet enabled device through an online portal. Apart from this, the system provided for automated, user configurable SMS and e-mail alerts as well as daily reports in customised formats.

After user acceptance, we began pushing for this solution across various industries in Ahmedabad. In 2012, MIT Technology Review magazine acknowledged our innovation and published our story as ‘Innovator under 35’, which helped us in also understanding what other innovations were happening across the globe and network with other fellow innovators.

From a product development perspective, it was a goldmine. In 2013 came our first big achievement in terms of funding when ‘International Finance Corporation’ (A World Bank group) invested $1.5 Million for Cleantech development. Being from a business family, it helped me in forging relationships very quickly with our clients which going forward helped us in not just getting revenues, but also in product development. Clients suggested changes in not just how the product operates but also in pricing. We started getting featured in local and national newspapers for the innovative technology which we were using for enabling’ Demand Side Management’ and providing ‘Energy Intelligence’ to customers. It has been nearly four years that we are in commercial operations and have been growing at a tremendous rate of over 100% every year. The high point of our existence came in the form of being adjudged by UNFCCC as a ‘Lighthouse Activity’ for 2014, for enabling an Information and Communication based solution to tackle Climate Change. Ban-Ki-Moon as well as Al-Gore were present at the event in COP 20, Lima, Peru, when we were acknowledged with the award.

There have been a lot of crests and troughs in our short existence of four years, but we intend to carry on innovating and changing the way the industries in a developing country operate by providing more Energy Intelligence using our ‘Industrial Internet of Things’ platform. We want to reduce costs and optimise the processes of our clients and become a one-stop-shop for all their energy requirements. With the growing competition in this field, and the bigger players moving in, we have managed to create a niche in the minds of our clients which helps further our cause of creating a world where every watt counts.


July-Harit-Soni

Harit Soni

The writer is Director, Ecolibrium Energy, Ahmedabad.

Comments

comments