Polaris Energy Services's current focus on agricultural energy management comes down to one thing: water.
California's dominance in the agricultural industry, its near-constant drought conditions, and fluctuating energy prices have created the perfect niche for Polaris, which sells a two-part energy-management platform. The hardware component of this system is a small device called the Polaris Pump Automation Controller. It resembles a loaf of bread and attaches to an irrigation pump. The device allows farmers to remotely turn the pump on and off depending on energy prices at any given time. Polaris also works with energy suppliers to monitor pricing data, which it then pipes directly to its clients in exchange for a monthly subscription fee.
"This is all we do," says Nic Stover, Polaris's CEO and co-founder. "And that's enabled us to stay profitable since the beginning." It also helped Polaris land at No. 195 on this year's Inc. 5000, an annual tally of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S., after the 10-person company generated $2.2 million in revenue in 2018, up 2,047 percent from 2015.
The idea for Polaris came out of Stover's former company, CalCom Solar--No. 3 on the 2016 Inc. 5000--where he served as CEO until the summer of 2016. While CalCom's focus is on solar power, Stover separately began to look deeper at water resources and needs, which are particularly acute in the agricultural hubs across California. He then tapped Mike Hardy, an electrical and software engineer, who helped him think the idea through, hash out a prototype, and co-found Polaris.
Today, Polaris's customers mostly consist of water districts, and almond and pistachio farmers in the San Joaquin and Central Valley of California. These farms can span up to 30,000 acres and pumps can be as far as 18 miles apart. California already places restrictions on when and how ground water can be pumped, so the ability to remotely control far-flung pumps, along with minute-to-minute grid pricing updates from Polaris, means farmers can be even more strategic about their energy costs. They can water their crops when prices are low and wait out peak-demand periods.
"California is, well, I wouldn't say a mess, but because of the high value of the crops plus the high energy prices, California is the place for customers to see the best return," says Stover, referring to a company's return on investment in the Polaris system, which costs about $1,800 per pump to install and $100 a month, on average.
Polaris also has contracts with energy suppliers--Pacific Gas and Electric is one of the company's largest clients. By serving as a liason between farmers and energy suppliers, Polaris works to alleviate grid overload and avoid blackouts during times of high demand: "These are huge pumps," says Stover. "They're pulling water from 1,200 to 1,500 feet underground. So shutting off one pump is the equivalent of shutting off like 300 air conditioners."
While Stover admits to aspirations beyond water and even beyond California's Central Valley, he's keeping his sights in check for now. "Our biggest challenge is just how to operate and kind of stay one step ahead of all the changes in the California electricity market."