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What I'm learning from investing in Channing Street Copper Company
What if your stove came with...batteries included?
Welcome to My Next Electric’s weekly newsletter on the clean energy transition, specifically the electrification of traditionally fossil-fueled stuff. If you were forwarded this post and liked it, please subscribe!
Each week we cover one of these:
Investments: a company we’ve invested in and why,
Motonerd stuff: hunches about the future of vehicles, or
Learning science: ways to help all humans learn, then go, electric.
This is post #4 in a series on our emerging investment thesis, Batteries Included:
#1 on our investing map is here.
#2 on how building electric motorcycles informs it is here.
This week we’re covering our 2022 investment in Channing St. Copper Co.
Channing Street Copper Company: Energy Storage Equipped (ESE) appliances
This clever company makes appliances with batteries inside.
But before we get to why that’s cool and useful, I want to tell you how I met the people behind it all.
In 2015, I got hooked on Maker Faire. These local, weekend show-and-tells were eclectic, collaborative, joyful events that made space for anybody willing to show off something they’d dreamed up then built themselves.
People like Flor Serna, founder of Electric Girls, who built an interactive music making machine to introduce young women to science and computing. Flor would later join the 4.0 team and teach hundreds of education entrepreneurs how to run effective pilots.
I think what made me so curious about these events was the high concentration of people like Flor, who found joy in science and were willing to share it. I started going to every local Maker Faire I could. In 2018, I finally got an invite to the big dance, World Maker Faire in New York.
Turns out I was only two books and one costume away from meeting another person just like Flor — Sam Calisch, co-founder of Channing Copper.
Two books and an appliance costume
World Maker Faire was amazing. Cool tools like 3d printers and laser cutters, sure. Mostly it was the builds. A 20-foot high fire-breathing dragon, a school bus turned science lab, DIY race-carts built with spare barbie corvette parts.
But none of it fit in my carry on.
A comic book about making stuff
The best thing I found to bring home was a comic book of maker projects for kids called Howtoons. My kids and I tore it apart, doing all kinds of fun experiments. Then I started looking into where it came from, who made it.
That’s when I learned about Saul Griffith and a place called Otherlab.
Saul was a bike guy. Check.
He loved to draw and was into overly complex visuals. OMG.
He’d raised grant dollars and helped people run cool experiments. No. Way.
He was an actual scientist. Ok, 3 out of 4’s not bad.
MacArther Fellow. Mmmm…
I was an instant Saul fan. I was wowed by Otherlab, too. Both ran on a clever mix of scientific rigor and playfulness about making the world better.
Exhibit 1: Howtoons screenshot from Saul’s 2012 TEDxSydney talk where he introduces the topic of biofuels with a drawing of a kid bottling his farts in the tub.
That’s my kind of science.
Another Otherlab member I
stalked followed was Sam Calisch. He’d been part of MIT’s Fab Lab project, which deployed maker spaces in pre-loaded containers all over the world, including one I’d been to in New Orleans.
Two years later, Saul and Sam would drop a PDF on the internet that would change the entire climate change conversation.
A Field Manual on going electric
When the Field Manual to Rewiring America dropped in 2020, I’d been reading all I could on the electrification of fossil-fueled machines.
But this was different. Unlike most stuff I read — wonky, dry, pessimistic, shame-soaked, finger-waggy — Saul, Sam and Laura stepped to this topic with as much science as anyone else, but still full of that fart-in-a-bottle creativity. And they made me want to get after it.
The huge response to their message laid the foundation for Rewiring America, a new non-profit that in only a few years would make a profound impact on that very fight.
Thank you for meeting with me, I’m a huge fan.
For the next year, Saul, Sam and other hopeful scientists with a sense of humor spent time in DC, sharing their uniquely optimistic take on a climate strategy rooted in the upside of going electric.
Here’s Sam touring DC, dressed as a….heatpump.
It was fun to watch. And it worked. After the IRA passed in August of 2022 and with a staff of pros now running Rewiring, Sam could do less Mr. Heat Pump and more scientist stuff.
A stove, with batteries included
One topic he’d been working on was another home appliance — the induction stove.
Induction stoves are:
healthier than gas - no nitrogen oxide, no leaking risk,
faster than gas and old-school electric resistance stoves - 40 sec to boil water, and
easy to clean.
expensive to install, usually requiring a new 240V line all the way to your breaker box, and probably a permit and
don’t work when the electricity goes out.
Putting a battery in an induction stove solves both problems:
You can plug in to existing 120V power and charge the battery when you’re not cooking. When it’s time to cook, pull power from that outlet and the battery at the same time - no realtime 240V connection needed.
You can use the battery when the power goes out, not just for cooking, but for other devices, too.
We talked a few times about where this Otherlab project had been and where it was going; I was fascinated. I looked at the numbers. I talked to other co-founders. I invested.
Sam, co-founders Eric Wilhelm and Weldon Kennedy, and their team are working hard and learning fast.
They’re demonstrating the discipline we look for in founders when it comes to piloting and getting up to scale. As much as it bums me out, they’re sticking with the Bay Area of California to work out the kinks.
You can still join the waitlist, even if you don’t live there.
Batteries in new places..
Like Freeman putting batteries on the grid to solve the duck curve problem, Sam is putting a battery in a stove primarily to solve installation and power-outage problems.
And like Freeman’s batteries, which now help utility partners with frequency regulation and stand-by power, too, Sam’s batteries might unlock new sources of value beyond the first two, like sharing energy in their battery with other critical appliances when the power goes out. And maybe with the power company someday.
I hope you can see in Charlie — the batteries-included induction stove — another example of what can happen when clever people put batteries in interesting, useful places.
See you next time with part 2 on B2U!
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