Tom Siebel’s $100M big data energy startup C3 finally emerges as a player


For years little has been known about what stealthy energy data startup C3, founded by Siebel Systems bazillionaire Tom Siebel, has actually been up to. The company has been like a Will Smith summer blockbuster that’s supposed to come out three years from now and will only hint at its plot through artsy abstract trailers. Well, turns out, school is finally out for the summer for C3 — the company has just completed some major milestones for its newly emerged big data energy product, according to Siebel during a talk at the Cleantech Investor Summit on Wednesday.

Siebel, now CEO of the four-year-old startup, said that in September 2012, C3 launched a data grid analytics project for PG&E, which crunched a whole lot of data about commercial and industrial buildings (the kind owned and leased in California by the likes of Cisco, Kaiser Permanente, Safeway and Best Buy). C3’s platform collected disparate data about a half a million buildings, from places like publicly-available data found via Google, to energy consumption data from utilities, to weather data from weather information companies.

The entire project required 28 billion rows of data (at least 8 terabytes) that C3 aggregated, normalized and loaded at 500 million records an hour said Siebel, adding, “this is really hard stuff.” PG&E used this data analytics tool to work with building owners to perform energy efficiency audits in real time for all of the commercial and industrial buildings in its footprint. It was a major success, said Siebel, and in the first few weeks of January of this year PG&E exceeded their energy auditing goal for the entire year.

C3 was also quietly involved in a more high profile big data energy project with GE, which I profiled last week when it launched at Distributech, although at the time I didn’t know C3 was involved. Siebel described the project with GE as “a joint development deal” at grid-scale, trying to solve “petabyte type of problems.” As I reported last week, GE’s Grid IQ Insight software can pull in disparate data from a variety of sources like grid sensors, utility databases and even social media sources on a per second interval basis, and utilities can use the software to peer into their grids, and combat blackouts, in real time.

GE tells me that their Grid IQ Insight product leverages the C3 platform stack as its underlying big data platform (SQL +Cassandra + Splunk + Tibco components). GE builds their own analytical apps on top of the C3 platform.

Siebel says C3 has three of these types of projects live with customers, that combine a big data layer, an analytics layer and a customer presentation layer. The company plans to launch another five projects in 2013 and another five in 2014. Other customers include Entergy, Northeast Utilities, Constellation Energy, NYSEG, Integrys Energy Group, Southern California Edison, ComEd, Rochester Gas & Electric, DTE Energy, as well as GE and McKinsey.

In addition to C3’s commercial and industrial platform it built for PG&E, the company also has developed a residential energy efficiency program, which launched last week, said Siebel. The service, which is in development with Detroit Edison and Entergy, is a loyalty program that gets customers to engage in energy efficiency behaviors in exchange for coupons and points at retailers like Amazon. I’m assuming that this platform has incorporated the technology from the startup Efficiency 2.0 that C3 acquired last Spring. Mailed marketing has long been considered the cutting edge in the utility sector, and “I don’t know if we even get mail at my house,” joked Siebel.

C3 has spent four years, and on the order of $100 million, building the software platform that it is now aggressively selling to utilities and energy vendors. At its core, the C3 platforms use Cassandra for database management system, and all of the applications store all of this data in the cloud, which is a relatively new phenomenon for many utilities to deal with. The company also has some big names as directors, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and former Senator and Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham.

Grid analytics is a sector that is growing 24 percent a year, said Siebel, and C3 intends to be the software layer that sits on top of the grid. He compared the opportunity to “the Internet in 1993.” Siebel, who sold Siebel Systems to Oracle in 2006 for close to $6 billion, is one of the few entrepreneurs in cleantech that would know what that looks like.

Lastly, Siebel said his latest startup endeavor isn’t about saving the world from climate change or reducing carbon emissions, despite the company’s three C’s moniker, and despite the fact that that’s important. Ultimately, he says, “It’s about making money.”

This story was updated with comment from GE at 7:25AM.

This story was updated at 10:45AM PST on April 4th 2013, to change that C3’s data for PG&E was loaded at 500 million records an hour, instead of 5 million records an hour.

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