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Induction stoves with batteries built in, and why they matter
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Induction stoves with batteries built in, and why they matter
A conversation with Sam Calisch of Channing Street Copper Company and Wyatt Merrill of DOE.
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In this episode, scientist Sam Calisch, whose company just introduced an induction stove with a built-in lithium-ion battery, and Wyatt Merrill of DOE, who helped secure funding for the project, talk about the exciting opportunities that stoves with embedded batteries might offer for chefs, consumers, grid operators, and more.

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Text transcript:

David Roberts

In the last few months, two separate fledgling companies — Impulse and Channing Street Copper — have announced the upcoming release of a new product: an induction stove with a lithium-ion battery built in. This might not seem like a big deal, but it is actually a peek into a whole new world of possibilities.

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Embedding batteries into appliances opens up all kinds of intriguing opportunities. A stove with a battery can deliver more power at the point of cooking. It can continue working when the power grid goes out. And it can serve as distributed storage to assist in grid stability.

(Photo: Channing Street Copper)
(Photo: Channing Street Copper)

To explore the new world of battery-enabled appliances, I contacted two experts. The first, Sam Calisch, helped start Rewiring America, a nonprofit focused on national electrification. He also worked at Otherlab with previous Volts guest Saul Griffith, from which he helped launch Channing Street Copper Company, where he is chief scientist. Channing’s first product is a stove with a battery (for now, there’s a wait list, and they’re only selling in the Bay Area).

Sam Calisch & Wyatt Merrill
Sam Calisch & Wyatt Merrill

My second guest is Wyatt Merrill, who works at the Department of Energy's Building Technologies Office, where he manages programs related to building electrification. He was instrumental in helping Otherlab secure more than $2 million in funding from DOE to help launch the Channing stove project.

I am excited to talk to Sam and Wyatt about the merits of embedding batteries in stoves, the things battery-enabled stoves allow consumers to do, and the future grid benefits battery-enabled appliances could yield.

With no further ado, Sam Calisch and Wyatt Merrilll. Welcome to Volts. Thank you guys so much for coming.

Sam Calisch

Great to be here.

Wyatt Merrill

Thanks for having us. A long time. First time.

David Roberts

Awesome. Sam, I want to start with you putting aside the stove for a moment. Take us back to your work. You've been doing work with Otherlab. You've been doing work with Rewiring America. You're big into the whole Electrification of America thing. You're very immersed in that whole business. Tell us how all that work led to this idea and this proposal.

Sam Calisch

Great question. So, as you say, I've been spending the last few years really going deep on electrification, both from a technology perspective, which is the majority of my background, but also from a policy perspective, and worked really hard on a lot of the stuff that went into the Inflation reduction act. And so about two years ago, my friend Saul Griffith and I, we were working on this book called "Electrify Together" with our friend Laura Fraser, and we're doing a bunch of data analysis for it, looking at trends in cost of the technologies related to electrification. And the thesis of that book is that we kind of have all the technology we need today and we just need to deploy it.

And David, you've done a really good job getting this idea out there. I think you said electrification is the main course. Right. Which I really enjoy. And so it's mostly true that we have what we need today. We just need to deploy it. But there's certainly technology developments that we can do that will make it faster, better, cheaper.

David Roberts

Right.

Sam Calisch

And one of the trends that we were really disturbed about was all these costs were coming down. Like, if you read Bloomberg New Energy Finance, you see battery prices approaching $100 a kilowatt hour, all of this. But if you actually looked at what it cost to install those, to put them on your house or something, those prices weren't coming down. And it was mirroring a very familiar story from residential solar, where now the hardware cost of residential solar is really cheap. It's something like $26 a watt for the actual hardware, but it's closer to $3 a watt to put it on your house.

And we were seeing the same thing happen with batteries and to do what we needed to do. Those trends couldn't continue. And so we started thinking about ways to get around that. And this idea emerged what we now call energy storage equipped appliances or ESE, or if you're feeling cheeky, maybe easy appliances where you can put a battery into an appliance in a factory instead of putting a battery on your house. And by doing that, you can do it really cheaply and really safely when you put it on your house in a sort of a bespoke way.

You need to have a site plan. You need to get a permit. You need to have someone come out and do custom electrical work. You have to get it inspected. All these things just add tons and tons of cost. So we said, well, what if instead of doing that, we allow batteries to be installed in appliances in a factory at the cheapest possible cost? And then they kind of come into your house, kind of like a trojan horse inside of the appliance, and all of a sudden you have this battery backup, this ability to use more renewables to power your life, this ability to make it easier to electrify.

And you didn't have to do all that custom, expensive work.

David Roberts

Right. You submitted a proposal to the DOE, right?

Sam Calisch

That's right. So we kind of wrote this idea up, and fortunately, our proposal found its way to Wyatt and some other folks who thought there was some potential inside of it and recommended it for award.

David Roberts

That's a good hand off to Wyatt. So, Wyatt, tell us what you're doing at DOE, kind of what your team is doing and how you found this and why it grabbed you.

Wyatt Merrill

Sure. I'll start with, kind of broadly, my role and the role of the team that I'm part of. I'm in the Building Technologies Office. I'm part of the Emerging Technologies Program in the office. And that office is one of a number of tech offices that comprises energy efficiency and renewable energy, or eer under DOE. So it's org charts on charts. So just to give you an idea of kind of where the project lives in DOE, so broadly, what I work on is R&D across a lot of different technologies. This is one project out of dozens that I manage.

David Roberts

These are all related to building technology, though?

Wyatt Merrill

Yes, all related to building technologies. And in particular, our Emerging Technologies Program is focused on research and development and sort of pre-competitive, next generation type technologies. So we're always doing like road mapping and analysis for what's coming next to save energy or to make electrification more viable in this particular proposal came as part of our Benefit FOA in 2020. Was the Benefit 2020? I think it was officially on the street in 2021, and that was a pretty broad funding call for a lot of different technology areas. We funded everything from heat pumps to lighting projects and windows and envelope.

And there was one topic that I was in charge of for that FOA.

David Roberts

Tell everybody what a FOA is.

Wyatt Merrill

Sorry. A Funding Opportunity Announcement. So there was one topic that was part of that funding opportunity that was a little bit more on the open ended side. But I really wanted to think hard about certain problems that consumers face when they want to electrify. And one of those things was panel capacity and being able to make the upgrades that you might want to make without having to go through the expensive and often time consuming process of upgrading your panel at a minimum, and sometimes even having to run new service and trench new lines out to homes.

And that can be a major constraint for certain people. And so I was really looking for creative ways to kind of sidestep this problem. Putting aside questions around national electric code and other kind of bureaucratic constraints, I was really interested in what are some of the technology solutions out there that might make it easier for people to electrify? And when this proposal came across my desk, it was really exciting to me. Not just because, yes, you can get batteries into the home for the purpose of, as Sam said, load shifting and aligning your demand with renewable supply.

That's certainly an application. But the big thing that actually I don't think Sam has mentioned yet is you can plug this into 120 volts outlet, which is for many people, a big savings on not having to run, have an electrician come in and run new circuits into the kitchen, and potentially can avoid those panel upgrades.

David Roberts

Had you heard of or thought of sort of embedded batteries or what was it? ESE easy appliances? Had you thought of that before you saw the proposal? Because this is one of those things which, when I first saw it, I was like, oh, well, duh. But I didn't think of it until I saw it had you heard of it before you saw the proposal?

Wyatt Merrill

So I hadn't heard of it specifically in terms of we should put a battery in an induction stove. But there have been some ongoing discussions and we continue to have ongoing discussions around sort of what does the future of home energy storage look like. And a lot of the focus has been on thermal energy storage. And to the extent that we've talked about batteries, it's usually been those larger stationary batteries. But there's been more and more discussion around, well, what if we thought a little differently about this? What if there was a battery in an appliance or in an outlet even?

Or how do we take advantage of devices that already have batteries, even, like battery backup systems in, like, emergency lighting? In principle, you could load shift with those if you wanted to. And so obviously there's a lot that goes into that beyond just the technology, the innovation protocols and interoperability standards and code. But in principle, there's, I think, a lot of different ways that you could imagine energy storage taking root in buildings. And so I don't want to say that we thought that this was definitely going to take off. It's been super successful just in the couple of years that we've had the project going, in my estimation.

But I think it's one of a number of ways that we're thinking kind of more creatively about batteries. Of course, the other thing is, if you have one in your garage, how do we take advantage of that? With a bi-directional charger.

Sam Calisch

Right?

Wyatt Merrill

So there's all these different kind of scales and opportunities, I think, for battery storage that we need to kind of think more creatively about, in my opinion.

David Roberts

Yeah. And one other thing about the DOE program. Is public education a piece of what you do at all, or you just feel like purely immersed in the tech? Because I just wonder, because currently I think it's like 5% of Americans have induction stoves or something like that, 10%. So they're unfamiliar to a lot of people. Is that part of your job or is that somebody else's problem?

Wyatt Merrill

It's not a major part of what I work on. I'm mostly focused on the R&D, but it's absolutely part of the broader effort that we have at the Buildings Office and across EERE, and we have partnerships with businesses through Better Buildings and with states and local governments to try to get some of that messaging out. So there are programs that are more focused. I mentioned I was in Emerging Technologies. We have other programs that are focused more on deployment and workforce development and education, for sure.

David Roberts

Let's talk about the stove. Let's get into the stove.

Sam Calisch

Awesome.

David Roberts

First of all, I know what an induction stove looks like, and I think probably most people do. It just looks like a stove. Where is the battery in the stove?

Sam Calisch

Well, it's funny you say, you know what induction stoves look like? A lot of coverage of induction stove often uses incorrect pictures. It uses pictures of radiant stoves because they actually glow and are sort of more interesting to look at. But induction stoves are just invisible magic stoves.

David Roberts

I think they're beautiful, like, all the sleek, smooth surfaces. Like I'd love induction.

Sam Calisch

Absolutely. And then you take them apart, and they're even more beautiful inside.

Wyatt Merrill

And you paint them yellow. Have you seen the stove at Otherlab?

David Roberts

Oh yeah, yes.

Sam Calisch

So we we've got our demo unit that we take to farmers markets. We cook people grilled cheese and talk to them about induction. This is our version of the public education campaign. It's painted bright yellow and blue, and you can wheel it around the park, and people kind of look at you funny, and that's the goal.

David Roberts

But, like, where is the battery in the stove? Is it near the surface? Is it in the back somewhere? I want to get a physical sense of what's going on.

Sam Calisch

Our battery goes down at the bottom. It's kind of where there's a lower drawer underneath your oven.

David Roberts

Right.

Sam Calisch

That's the space that we use for a battery.

David Roberts

And how big is it? Can I see the battery if I own the stove? Or is it embedded somewhere where sort of out of the way?

Sam Calisch

You could definitely see it. I don't think I'll recommend that people go and mess with their batteries or their copper stove, but we're not hiding anything. It's right there down at the bottom.

David Roberts

Bigger than a shoebox. How big is the better physical?

Sam Calisch

Yeah, most of the plan form, like, most of the footprint of the stove and maybe like four or five inches thick slab.

David Roberts

Got it. So pretty big, and I would imagine fairly heavy too.

Sam Calisch

Yeah. So that's one reason to put it down low and also to make it kind of a modular component so you can take it off if you need to move the stove around, et cetera. And it's really important to know. These are sealed packs. They've got a robust metal casing around them. So this is about water ingress. This is about making sure they're temperature controlled. But critically, these are lithium iron phosphate packs, which are different than the lithium-ion chemistries that are in a lot of laptops and cell phones. When we think of lithium battery, and you have the vision of fire that's lithium-ion, lithium iron phosphate is an inherently safe chemistry.

It doesn't have thermal runaway. It's also an inherently long lived chemistry. You get much more cycles out of it. So the kind of degrating that you experience with your phone is not a feature of lithium iron phosphate.

David Roberts

We just had a pod on this on Volts a mere few days ago. So all our loyal listeners are completely up to date on this on LFP batteries. So they're longer lasting, they have a longer charge cycle. They can charge more times. They don't have thermal runaway. They don't catch on fire. Their only really disadvantage, if you call it that, is that they don't have the energy density of familiar lithium-ion chemistries, but in most applications, they have enough energy density. Two separate questions. One is, how powerful is it vis-à-vis cooking? Right? Like, what does it do for your cooking that you can't get out of a non-battery stove?

And then secondarily, is it big or powerful enough to meaningfully play a role in, like, if your power goes out and you need some electricity to run your lights or whatever, does it store enough power to be a meaningful part of kind of a larger whole house backup system?

Sam Calisch

Yeah. So this battery is about four kilowatt hours in our flagship product. You could think of that as about a third of a Tesla powerwall. And so it is meaningful with respect to your whole homes energy use. Say the power goes out and you have no access to power, you'll be able to run your fridge for about four days. Modern fridges tend to do about a kilowatt hour a day. And depending on how grandiose your meals are during that blackout, you can cook meals for that same amount of time. But the really interesting thing about the battery, or this is actually an interesting thing about our cooking habits generally, so we've taken a lot of data about cooking.

You put power meters all over the stove and you measure how much power goes to the burners into the oven, and you get to cook nice meals for the engineering team at the same time. And on average, for sort of like windows of about an hour or so, there's no cooking activities that really draw more than one or 2 kilowatts. That's 1500 kilowatts what you can get from the 110 volts outlet that's already in your kitchen. And so, on average, the power supplied by that relatively meager outlet can totally run all of your cooking activities. It's just these brief moments when we're bringing the pot to boil, or you put the 20 pound bird in the oven, or you really want a lot of flashbang, then you're using way more power.

And those short moments are the only reason a conventional induction stove has that huge 50 amp, 240 volts outlet.

David Roberts

A hilariously familiar story, right? Like, this is the whole electricity system in miniature. Absolutely. You're talking about, right, peak shaving.

Sam Calisch

Absolutely. And so what all this data collection shows you is that in normal conditions, like, not a blackout condition, in relatively normal conditions, it's basically impossible to run out of battery. We put a big one in there to get you through a blackout, but in normal conditions, there's no sort of range anxiety to worry about.

Wyatt Merrill

I'll tell you, when we got this proposal in that funding opportunity I was talking about earlier, one of the main things that I heard from the external reviewers because when we go through the process of making selections, it's quite a long process and I won't bore you with the details, but we do have a round of reviews externally. And some people said, what about Thanksgiving dinner? Are people really going to be able to use a stove like this and cook all these different pots and pans on the turkey in the oven all day long? And I think it was sort of an open question at the time that we made the selection.

And then, sure enough, this year, if I'm not mistaken, Sam, your team made Thanksgiving dinner on the stove, is that right?

Sam Calisch

We did. We did a nice pre-Thanksgiving meal with the team and cooked a bunch of really delicious stuff.

David Roberts

Unplugged, you mean? Because of course you're not going to run out if you're plugged in, right?

Sam Calisch

Well, it's plugged into the 110 volts outlet, the small one.

David Roberts

Right. So is it the case that you cannot use an induction stove with 110 volts outlet, period? Or is that a hard rule or is that like a guideline?

Sam Calisch

A conventional induction range. So we're talking four burners and an oven. There's no way in hell you would plug that into 110 volts outlet. That would require 240 volts to your kitchen and either a 40 or 50 amp breaker and all the copper through you all to support that amount of current, especially renters looking to electrify. Like, I did this for many years. I wanted induction in my kitchen. And so I just bought a single burner induction. And those you can plug into 110 volts because it's only 1500 watts that you're pulling. And that's okay, even though a single burner on a full size induction range will easily get you up in 3000 watts.

And that's just for that flashbang experience of why induction is magic.

David Roberts

Right? So you've got the battery in the stove that can provide those surges. This brings up a very familiar question, which I'm sure you've heard dozens of times, which is whenever I talk about induction stoves online, in addition to the avalanche of dumb myths about gas stoves.

Sam Calisch

Yes.

David Roberts

There's also the question of what about my wok? Right. This is the one thing that sort of gas stoves have left. Like the induction stove, especially once the battery is embedded, can deliver more just raw energy now than flame can. So all that's left is the wok. So just for listeners benefit, answer the wok question.

Sam Calisch

Sure. I call these the induction whataboutisms, or, you know, more generally, the electrification whataboutisms. And one of our kind of guiding principles at Copper is we're going to solve all of the induction whataboutisms, and that includes the wok. We have some really exciting technology that will let you use a Wok on our stove. And that's about all I want to say about that right now, but yeah, no.

David Roberts

Well, at least tell me what that looks like. I don't get it. I don't get how it could work because it's about well, there's two things with a wok. One is the curved surface, which is problematic, and the other is you need the really high heat to get that particular kind of flavor and charred thing. So is this an addition to the stove? Is it an extra piece of something?

Sam Calisch

Yes, exactly. So this will be an accessory for the stove that allows you to use sort of a wok of your choice.

David Roberts

On that theme. As I was thinking about this, if you have a stove that is effectively boosting the power from your wall, it seems like you could design other stuff to plug into the stove. Right. And to run off the stove's battery. So it seems like once you start thinking about this, there's all sorts of accessories you can imagine plugging in to various parts of the stove to enhance kind of the stove's usefulness. Is the wok accessory the only one you've got so far, or is this a family of things you're thinking about?

Sam Calisch

It's definitely a family of things we're thinking about in the vein of plugging things into your stove. In our flagship product, the pre-order campaign that we just sold out, there is an auxiliary outlet on it which allows you to plug any other thing you want to run on the stove's power system. So kind of the primary use case we think of is plugging your fridge in, and what that allows the stove to do is it can run your fridge when the power is out, and then it could also use that additional load of the fridge for load shifting, for grid support, for things like that. Just having more loads underneath the battery to play with.

David Roberts

That's interesting. I guess I was thinking more about cooking accessories, although I don't know exactly what that would look like, but I'm not a cook. Just like it just occurred to me, like you have all this power available, like you could run other power using devices related to cooking off of this thing or integrate them almost somehow. I imagine you don't want to say too much about any of that since it's all in development.

Sam Calisch

Yeah, this is a slightly sensitive area, but basically what I'll say is we've got some chefs on staff, we're doing some things I'm really excited about here, and we're going to solve all the induction. whataboutisms? And this is going to be a really great cooking experience that's from the ground up.

David Roberts

Right. And final stove question, which is just how much is it going to cost? Off the bat, I assume a first in class product is going to be relatively expensive. So what's the cost and what's the story you kind of tell about the cost?

Sam Calisch

Sure. Just kind of the facts are for our pre order campaign, these stoves are $6,000. And that may sound like a lot sticker shock, but we got to remember a couple of things. One is that because the battery that's built in is larger than three kilowatt hours, it can qualify for the investment tax credit. That's in the inflation direction act.

David Roberts

That's a tax credit for home batteries. Specifically.

Sam Calisch

That's a tax credit for residential battery energy storage systems.

David Roberts

Got it.

Sam Calisch

And that's a 30% tax credit. So there's lots of issues with tax credits. They are regressive. It's hard for people to claim them, but it's 30% off the top when claimed as a tax credit. Then on top of that, obviously there's local rebates. So in the bay area, bay rent provides $750 rebate for an induction stove. And then the other piece that we have to think about is this cost gets you everything. It gets the stove into your house working. If you go to home depot and buy an induction stove, you then have to schedule an electrician visit, stay home from work, get them to come over and pay them a significant amount of money to run copper from your breaker box to your kitchen for that new outlet.

And that's assuming you have the ampacity in your breaker box. If you're upgrading the breaker box, that's a larger project and sort of like chain of potential upgrades start kicking in. So when you factor in those costs in a bunch of cases, this is the cheapest way to get induction. And we're providing all the other sort of energy storage equipped services on top of that, like the ability to run during a blackout, the ability to use renewables, et cetera, et cetera.

Wyatt Merrill

It's also perhaps worth mentioning, Sam, I don't know how much you want to get into it, because I know it's still sort of part of the development process in this project. But in principle, if you have time of use rates that you can take advantage of in your area, you could be charging and discharging at certain times, correct?

David Roberts

Right. I want to talk about that later. Actually, let's let's bracket that for later because I want to talk about the the larger sort of grid questions, just.

Wyatt Merrill

To say it has some bearing on the lifetime cost.

Sam Calisch

Definitely just one last thing on pricing. We've talked to a bunch of municipalities who are running low income housing retrofit programs. These are cities like city of Oakland, city of Berkeley, city of LA, DC. Chicago, New York. They're all running large programs. And we sort of relied on them for some of the data on setting pricing, especially as it involves the cost and complexity of electrical work. And they said if you can sell a stove for $5,000, that's what we're currently budgeting in our programs for induction stove plus electrical work. So coming in at six in the pre order leaves us room to come down for a large buyer like a municipality to be able to take part in those programs.

David Roberts

Right. And then, of course, if you're involved in public policy, there's also the sort of health benefits of removing a source of pollution from the home. Those health benefits accrue, they're not reflected in the cost of the stove, but they're out there.

Sam Calisch

That's a great point. A lot of us are familiar with the case for childhood asthma and gas stoves. There's been a really strong link established between these two things. More recently, there's a growing body of evidence for the link between gas stoves and adult dementia. After childhood asthma might be among the most scary things I can think of to have linked to gas stoves.

David Roberts

Yeah, I guess I shouldn't take that for granted. I assume people listening to Volts are probably aware of this. But just to put it on record, there's a large and growing body of evidence that gas stoves inside your home produce indoor pollution that has all sorts of negative effects. And like any form of air pollution, the more it gets studied, the more effects they find. So there's a good reason to get gas stoves out of your home separate from all of these benefits that we're talking about, just to quit poisoning yourself. So you could say there's two strategies here.

One is for every home, just bite the bullet, do the big upgrade of the electrical box, of the electrical power system in general, and then just install a big central battery, because you can get all the benefits we're talking about here and more. I think from a central battery you could run things when the power is out, you can provide surges of power when you need extra power more than your outlet can provide, et cetera, et cetera, down the line, all the benefits you could get from a central battery connected to all the appliances in the home. Or the alternative strategy which we're talking about here is sort of bypass that because it's a giant hassle and expensive and then just embed batteries all over the place in homes, in appliances to bypass the need for these upgrades. Does DOE sort of favor one of those over the other?

Or do you favor one of those over the other? Or how should we think about those two strategies? Like, does the funding of this mean that sort of DOE is all in on the latter strategy? Or how do you think about the relationship of those two?

Wyatt Merrill

Yeah, sure, I'll do my best to answer and you can tell me if I'm avoiding the question. We are very much in an ongoing process of developing from the buildings perspective, kind of where we're headed with battery storage. There's been a lot of efforts across DOE, of course, when it comes to the battery cell chemistry, when it comes to electric vehicles, manufacturing processes that I'm not really equipped to speak on. And so my answer here is really about batteries in buildings and what that looks like in the future. Speaking personally, I'm sort of agnostic as to how batteries get into buildings.

I think it's incumbent on us certainly to think about not only technology solutions but realistic adoption scenarios. And so it's not enough to say like, well, you could do this with a $12,000 stationary battery in your garage and maybe you could do it even better if you had a DC microgrid and you tore it all the wiring and you did everything from scratch. But I want to be creative about thinking about sort of serving all types of buildings and geographies and people in different economic situations. And so that's part of the thought process. The other thing I'll say is that I think it's sort of an open question still whether or not getting batteries into homes is on its face, a decarbonisation strategy.

So I think it definitely has the potential to be. But when you think about the entire sort of lifecycle of mining lithium and developing the batteries and shipping them around, you really have kind of a hole to dig out of when you're setting these up in a home. And so my feeling is whether you're talking about a large stationary system or you're talking about some kind of creative integration strategy, like putting it in a stove or putting it you could even imagine it in like a modular wall type construction or outlets or whatever that we're thinking about operationally, how to do the best we can from an emission standpoint. And that becomes a difficult thing.

David Roberts

It seems like that would weigh against, not definitively, but at least sort of on the ledger of pros and cons. That would weigh somewhat against multiple batteries, would it not? It seems like you would want from a materials and embedded carbon perspective, you would want to minimize the number of batteries, would you not?

Wyatt Merrill

The thing that I come back to is that not all homes need a huge battery in their garage that can island the entire home. In a lot of cases it's really sufficient to control one or two or three peaky loads and make sure that they're not coincidental or make sure that those peaks can be curtailed by a battery. And so oversizing big batteries for the entire home that ultimately have a pretty large embodied carbon component is not to me, always going to be the most effective method for decarbonization. Right? But these things are not just about decarbonization, it's about resilience.

It's about economic benefits. If you want to take advantage of time of use rates, as we mentioned, and decarbonization. And I think there's some questions that are yet to be answered about how we can align those priorities and under which circumstances they are aligned.

David Roberts

Right. So Sam, how do you think about this? Do you think about this as a stop gap until you can upgrade the electricity in your home or do you view it as like a full on different way to go about it, a different strategy?

Sam Calisch

Great question. And Wyatt roughly just hit a number of the points I was about to make. So that's perfect. This is a full on decarbonization strategy. The way we think about this is we're putting the smallest battery we can at the right place to avoid the most amount of infrastructure upgrades we need to do. So that means targeting the peaky loads like we talked about, and that sets off cascading cost reductions. I've looked at this at a number of places. We're talking a lot about the cost of running copper from your breaker box to your kitchen.

There's the cost of upgrading your electrical panel. There's the cost of upgrading the electrical service into your house. Those costs are large. The last one I mentioned, just the electrical service in, I did a study on that and it's estimated to electrify the residential stock of the US. It's a quarter trillion dollars just to upgrade the incoming electrical service for the homes that will need it if we don't do something.

David Roberts

That's just new panels for homes that need it. That's it.

Sam Calisch

Honestly, David, that's not even the new panels. That's just the wires coming in. The wires coming in and the distribution transformers on the street.

David Roberts

That's a lot.

Sam Calisch

It's a lot because any time you've got underground wires, you got to retrench. Any time you've got underground wires near natural gas infrastructure, that retrenching is very expensive.

David Roberts

And is there not a shortage of electricians at the moment too? Just to toss that in there.

Sam Calisch

There's a very large shortage of electricians. You know, electrical contractors would much rather send their workers to larger job sites where they can make a bunch of money. So getting them to roll to your house for your piddley kitchen circuit is going to cost you a couple grand just to get the truck to show up. So we're in the business of hearing horror stories about this because we solve this problem for people, so they like to tell us about it.

Wyatt Merrill

David, I think you can get a lot of similar benefits in terms of a stationary large battery versus maybe a coordinated group of smaller batteries. But if it allows somebody to electrify that wouldn't otherwise electrify, to me, that's sort of a categorical difference in terms of the benefit space. And then one other thing I want to say around the alignment between resilience and decarbonization. It's perfectly valid to want a battery in your home for the purpose of resilience and for the purpose of keeping the lights on or the fridge running or the stove running during a blackout, especially in places now that have scheduled blackouts.

And you can count on them like clockwork. That's perfectly valid. But I guess what I want to understand from in terms of the DOE's perspective that you asked about earlier, is, like, if these batteries are sitting idle the other 99% of the time that you're not in a blackout scenario, what can we do with them to really bring some better alignment between supplies from renewable sources and demand? On the other hand.

David Roberts

Yes, indeed. So, Sam, did you have any additions to that?

Sam Calisch

No. Wyatt said it beautifully, like, roughly, we're looking for the biggest benefit for the smallest battery that's being used most of the time. So we don't want our batteries to sit idle and we don't want to put more batteries than we need.

David Roberts

Got it. Let's talk about this, then, the ability of batteries to be a tool of decarbonization. I think you sort of raised this earlier and I think it's just worth emphasizing. It's not automatic, right? It's just not automatic that if you just throw batteries out to as many places as possible, you're going to get decarbonization. You need to do certain things and have certain policies in place. And a big piece of that is having the batteries play some role on the grid, not just in your home helping you cook, but that when you're not cooking. And when that battery has some capacity and it's sitting there with power in it and you're not using it.

The grid needs to be able to know that that power is there and how much of it it can use and be in dialogue with all those batteries. So tell us just sort of like briefly what policies you think need to be in place to get the most decarbonization benefit out of these distributed batteries that we're putting in appliances and everywhere else.

Wyatt Merrill

So I'll say a couple of things and then I'm going to toss it over to Sam, because to be honest with you, I won't be speculating as to policy needs, but I'm happy to let Sam do it. But I will say that there's kind of two things here in terms of aligning the choice to install a battery with decarbonisation. And the first, as we've already touched on, is just, is that battery giving you the ability to electrify that you might not have otherwise had? So, in other words, can you get those direct emissions out of homes?

Can you cap gas lines to buildings? And in doing so right away, you've made some impact on the emission picture and then you have to ask, okay, well, what type of electricity is going to be charging this battery? Is it coming from, when does it come from solar? So then the operational carbon becomes an hour to hour question, and it certainly varies geographically in terms of the grid mix. And it's going to vary temporarily over the next ten years as we scale up renewable supplies to the point where this question would not be so pressing. Perhaps in 2035, if all goes well.

But it's certainly in the transitional period, we want to be mindful.

David Roberts

Right, if all the electricity is renewable, a lot of these questions will be mooted.

Wyatt Merrill

Yeah, that's right.

David Roberts

But certainly between here and there, we need to use them well. So, Sam, I guess you sort of literally wrote the book on this. So maybe you can take a swing at what needs to be in place for my battery and my stove to be a good grid citizen, a good decarbonizer.

Sam Calisch

I'll start by just noting that even without communicating to the grid, your energy storage equipped appliance is already helping the grid just by your pattern of use. You arrive home, you cook dinner after the sun has gone down. It's likely that in your area this is a peak time of use and you're drawing most of your power from the battery at that point.

David Roberts

Let me pause you there. When you just start cooking, does it draw on the battery first? Do you have to tell it to use battery power rather than grid power? Or how does it decide?

Sam Calisch

There are complex control laws that run inside of it to determine what mixture of power sources it gets from where. And so it's not one or the other really, but kind of your ratios and a little bit of it will be user preference. You as a very climate concerned citizen could say, pull no power that was generated during a time likely to be supported by peaker plants and it could implement that. Or you could say, keep me as resilient as possible at all times, keep the battery as full as possible at all times, things like this.

So a little bit of this is going to be personal preference.

David Roberts

You can program that into the stove somehow.

Sam Calisch

Yeah, but the larger point is just that any amount of power sort of absorbed during the day during the solar window and dispensed at night during a peak time is already supporting the grid even before a lot of the more complicated back and forth and price signaling and emission signaling, et cetera.

David Roberts

Okay, well, that's our baseline, but say we want to go beyond baseline.

Sam Calisch

Sure. I think there's a lot of people and to be honest, there's a lot of people that know more about this than me. But doing daily look ahead from the grid operators to know what the projected outlooks of generation mix are going to look like, having those signals dispatched as close to just day ahead is really kind of the stuff we need to make this work really well.

David Roberts

And what about aggregators? Am I still going to be talking directly to the grid or is this mostly going to go through aggregators just for listeners benefit? And aggregators just an entity that makes contracts with dozens or hundreds of small distributed energy resources. Your batteries in your garage or your stove or your car or whatever, anything. All these little behind the meter resources and coordinates them such that they act like a big energy producer or a big energy storage installation, basically like a virtual power plant, it's called. Is that how you see these things working in the future?

Are these embedded batteries playing a role in aggregations?

Sam Calisch

Yes, absolutely. And so in that case, we would be the aggregator for these devices.

David Roberts

Oh, really? Channing Street is going to get into that biz.

Sam Calisch

Yeah. What's interesting, though, is that one of the other main reasons we haven't touched on too much here is that another reason to put batteries into appliances is you then gain access to the much larger market of residential appliances compared to the market of residential energy storage. And so you don't have to have a large market share of stoves. You can have single digit market share of stoves for five years, and you'll have deployed more battery capacity than Tesla has.

David Roberts

Interesting. You mean Tesla has four home batteries?

Sam Calisch

Per Powerwall, Yes.

David Roberts

Yeah, I hadn't really thought of that. But especially if you can get this so standardized that it just becomes sort of like a standard feature, and people don't have to do it on purpose. They're just buying appliances that naturally have batteries in them.

Sam Calisch

Exactly.

David Roberts

That's a lot of appliances out there.

Sam Calisch

Yeah. These ESE appliances, I think people will buy them for the amazing performance they give. Not necessarily the fact that they have a battery. We didn't touch too much on this. But even outside of stoves, other appliances, there's a lot of really good benefits, even with stoves. You know that annoying buzz some induction stoves make?

David Roberts

Yes.

Sam Calisch

Running from a battery, you can make that silent.

David Roberts

What, why? How, what?

Sam Calisch

And then you get to have the fun conversation that we've now had about EVs about what sounds good in induction.

David Roberts

Right. So you know the stoves on, right?

Sam Calisch

Yeah, exactly.

David Roberts

Hilarious. What makes that noise? PS: Because everybody out there with an induction stove knows what you're talking about, what makes it, and how do you silence it?

Sam Calisch

So it varies a little bit, depending on the model. But in almost all cases, that noise is an artifact of the fact that that stove is being driven with alternating current, with AC power. So that buzz is the 60 hz signal that you're hearing, making its way all the way through the driving circuitry and into these sort of vibrations of the pan and vibrations of the driving coil, vibrations of the glass. And so when you're running it through a battery instead, a lot of this is happening in a direct current sense, and that buzz can be completely eliminated.

David Roberts

Interesting. I had not heard that bit. I've heard a lot of people complain about that noise. So this is highly relevant information.

Sam Calisch

That buzz is terrible. I agree.

Wyatt Merrill

This reminds me. I have a separate project, totally unrelated, but looking at interfacing thermal electrics with various appliances, but dishwashers being one of them. And it turns out if you set up a thermoelectric heat pump in a dishwasher, you can eliminate the what do you call it, the mist, the fog that comes out when you open the dishwasher. That, I guess, is a big consumer preference.

David Roberts

I like that fog.

Sam Calisch

I enjoy it. Yeah, exactly.

David Roberts

It's like a little face. So Wyatt and maybe Sam too. But Wyatt first, what other appliances are next? Like batteries are getting small and cheap enough that in theory you could just stick them anywhere, but presumably you'd want to prioritize somehow. So what are the after stoves? What are the next big places where you might want to embed a battery?

Wyatt Merrill

So whenever we start a project like this one with Otherlab or Channing Copper, we sit down and we come up with different stage gates that we're going to work on throughout the course of the project. And one of the first ones in that operating plan was to answer the question that you're asking, which is like, which appliances are going to benefit the most from this? And I know we looked at water heaters, we looked at refrigerators. I think it dryers as well. I actually do have some of the results in front of me, but I don't want to steal the thunder of the person who actually did the analysis.

So Sam, do you want to speak to that?

Sam Calisch

Sure, yeah. So in a lot of cases, the same value proposition can be captured, the avoiding the 240 volts outlet for things that already run on gas. So dryers, good example, gas dryers are common. Gas water heaters are common. Both of these, there's a strong value proposition for avoiding that electrical work. In the case of water heaters, we're already seeing some 120 volts heat pump water heaters hitting the market, Rheem ProTerra unit as an example. It got some buzz earlier this year when it came out, and this is really exciting, but it's important to note that that water heater is not a solution for all climates and all households.

It's a warm climate, small household solution. And so there's still a huge unmet need in terms of 120 volts water heaters. And so there's a bunch of room there.

David Roberts

So a battery embedded heat pump water heater. That's what we're talking about.

Sam Calisch

Yeah. And so the ability to deploy this amazing cost saving heat pump technology without having to rewire your house, the value proposition is strong. The other one I will mention is replacing on demand gas water heaters. If I walk around my neighborhood, it's like every house less than 1000 sqft has a gas on demand water heater on the outside of their building. Those homes don't really have a viable electrification pathway right now. There are electric on demand water heaters, but they are even peakier than stoves. They require three or four separate 30 amp breakers, all with dedicated copper runs.

It's cost prohibitive. So if we think about this is an equity issue. If we think about all these houses, they don't have a viable way to get off gas for their water heating because they don't have room for a storage tank.

David Roberts

So a battery embedded on demand water heater, then I would think intuitively that the peak demand on an on demand water heater might even be higher than the peak demand from a stove. Or is that wrong? Like, is an on demand water heater a more challenging load than a stove, or are they comparable?

Sam Calisch

It is actually more challenging generally. I mean, these are generalities. there'll be differences, obviously, but for comparable households, yeah, the peak power running to an on demand water heater is exceptionally high. This can be in the 20 or 30 kilowatt range, whereas an induction range, it might usually be around 10 kw peak.

David Roberts

But this is still something you think a battery can handle?

Sam Calisch

Yes. Specifically, a battery is a good choice for it because a small amount of battery can really yield a lot of savings because it's these peak times that aren't really that long.

David Roberts

Right. Wyatt raised this earlier? Why not batteries embedded in your wall, behind your drywall, attached to your outlet, such that anything you plug in the outlet right. Enjoys these benefits?

Wyatt Merrill

I've seen some proposals for that type of work. I think it's compelling as innovations go. I think there's a lot of questions around fire safety and code that have to be addressed for that to really get off the runway. I hesitate to strongly endorse that approach, but I think thinking creatively about if you can make that installation happen in a factory where they're doing modular type walls, maybe you can do a much better job with all the safety and make sure that it's not going to cause any problems versus somebody doing a custom job on their own home.

You might be more concerned embedding that in the wall.

Sam Calisch

We actually did some design studies on this originally. Fire code is a huge, huge barrier to this. Talk to people who have been through that process and they said, no, no way in hell are you going to get that through. The other point is that this kind of general purpose battery sitting next to an appliance is compelling, but particularly for high power appliances, there's a lot of cost that goes into the power conversion and conditioning needed to go in and out of the battery. And in the case of a lot of these appliances, when you integrate directly with them, you can simply skip a lot of those steps because you know exactly what you're going to be driving.

You don't need to do as much voltage conversion, you don't need to do as much inversion. So you save a bunch on cost there and you save a bunch on efficiency, because there's a critical efficiency threshold below which it's really not beneficial to store away energy. It's round trip efficiencies of batteries. DC to DC is something like 90%, but if you look at our national fleet of grid connected batteries, it's more like 80% after. It includes all of those other power conversion losses.

David Roberts

Got it. Otherlab, if I'm not mistaken, did some modeling, trying to assess what is the sort of decarbonization potential of easy appliances. I'm going to try to make that happen. These ESE appliances, tell us about that. What are we talking about when we look at the big if we could spread this across the nation, what could we get?

Sam Calisch

The overall potential of energy storage equipment, appliances.

David Roberts

Correct. How much decarbonization could we get out of them if we made them ubiquitous?

Sam Calisch

Yeah, so I did an analysis of this, and the emissions reductions come in kind of three buckets that are when you run the numbers on it, they're roughly equal in size. Roughly. The first is direct combustion, so we're not burning gas anymore in our stoves and our water heaters, et cetera. So there's a savings there. The second bucket is in methane leaks, which this is another thing where the more we learn about this, the worse we find out it is. And because methane is so potent, as the news cycle is starting to remind us more and more, which is good, little leaks are big problems from a climate perspective.

And so avoiding the leaks of the methane supply chain and of the appliances themselves is another huge bucket. And then finally there's what I call the marginal grid emissions or the avoided emissions of the electricity sector that comes from having this additional battery storage supporting it. And when we add all that up, we find that in the US. It's approximately 330,000,000 metric tons per year of technical potential for energy storage equipped appliances.

David Roberts

What are some sort of like, consumer pain points here that we could concentrate on?

Wyatt Merrill

I don't know if we've covered it thoroughly enough, but I do feel like it's not talked about enough in general. Is this constraint around panel upgrades, and that I think you have an idea in your head of what something might cost you in terms of the end use, but then the infrastructure needed just to supply power to that end use is often not part of the equation. And then when you find out, oh, by the way, it's going to take months and months of permitting and before we can get an electrician to come out and your furnace kicked in the middle of the winter, a lot of people are not going to wait around for that to happen, even if they can't afford it. And a lot of people are going to have trouble affording that upgrade.

David Roberts

Just to emphasize what you just said, because I meant to mention this earlier, it's well known that people tend to be replacing appliances under stress because their appliance died. And if you have a dead water heater or a dead stove, the idea of waiting several weeks for a panel upgrade is even more of a pain in the ass.

Wyatt Merrill

Yeah, I think that's a big one. And I think a lot of the sort of studies around electrification challenge, if you will, just kind of sweep that under the rug sometimes and then they'll also just upgrade the panel at the same time. And that'll just be just tack on another five grand, and maybe it'll be five grand. Some places it's less than that. In some places it's a lot more than that, especially if you need new service. But then there's also that time factor of, like, not in the middle of the winter, they won't.

David Roberts

Yeah. And honestly, the more I have sort of studied and thought about and read about any sort of upgrade or difference or thing to do in the household that you rely on a consumer to do, you just have to dial back your expectations for what they will do. They don't want to do anything. They will default almost always to the easiest default choice. Even if you're just asking them to make a phone call or just like one extra step, you lose enormous swaths. It's absolutely got to be as easy as possible.

Wyatt Merrill

Yeah. So I have a separate project, not part of the Otherlab work, but a separate project with a couple of our national labs, NREL and Lawrence Berkeley Lab. And it's got a number of partners as well. And the whole point of that project is really to get our arms around this upgrade question of what I think of as the gray area. Right? Because there are certain homes that, yes, no matter how you cut it, they're going to have to upgrade, and there's no way around it. There are some homes that don't need an upgrade, that have plenty of capacity and that might be like newer construction or newer renovations, and then there's people who might be somewhere in the middle there.

And my sense is really that that gray area in the middle is not very well defined from the current kind of analysis landscape that's out there. There's been a couple of studies that try to quantify this, and I think we can do a better job. And that's what we're doing right now. So we have this project that I mentioned with a number of components. Part of that's analysis, part of it is looking at even future grid mix and then maybe making recommendations for national electric code revisions to try to make some of these transitions more viable.

And then also there's a lot of really interesting ideas around load management, especially digital load management, that, again, might not be code compliant in all places, but have a lot of potential from a technical standpoint to make sure that your dryer and your EV are not charging at the same time. Right. So you run into a situation where you can come up with a lot of creative ideas around avoiding those upgrades, and then there's kind of what's going to be permissible from a code standpoint. What are consumers actually going to want, as you say? What are they going to put up with or do to make the upgrade possible?

So that's the big one for me. I'm sure there's a bunch of others we could talk about.

David Roberts

Sam, what do you go you've been immersed in electrifications. I'm sure you've heard every what-about that there is what are some other others on your list?

Sam Calisch

Well, there's the classic, but will the grid handle it? And there's a lot of precedent here that we can lean on, but also we're going to have to do things like distribute storage in order to avoid all of the upgrades that might otherwise be necessary. The one I tell folks a lot is between 1950 and 1970, we quadrupled the amount of delivered electricity in the US. And that was largely through consumer education campaigns. That was Ronald reagan hosting a show sponsored by GE and Westinghouse talking about all his electric appliances in his house. And we don't even need to do that much.

We need to deliver two and three times the amount of electricity we do today in our electrified future, and we need to do it in 20 years. So we've already done more than what we need to do. So that's one we can lean on. But not to make it sound trivial, it's going to require a massive build out, particularly of transmission, and we need to rely on things like distributed batteries to avoid all the upgrades to the distribution network that we might otherwise have to do.

David Roberts

Right. And what about I bet you've heard where I live, grid mix is mostly coal anyway, so how is this helping decarbonization I'm sure you've heard that one.

Sam Calisch

Oh, definitely. And the answer there is these electric appliances are inherently efficient. And so in most cases, even if you're exclusively powered on coal, your EV contributes less than your gasoline powered car, your heat pump contributes less than your gas furnace. I think I'm probably preaching to the choir here, though.

David Roberts

Yes. One of my favorite statistics that your friend Saul uses all the time is just the efficiency gains of switching from fossil fuel to electric appliances and cars and everything else. That almost cuts in half the amount of raw energy that you need to put into the economy, which is wild. That is just wild. Which means you can either do 50% more stuff for the same amount of energy right. Or you can dramatically cut the amount of energy necessary. Which is why I think those sort of, like, charts of total energy that's gone to renewables are somewhat misleading.

You're just not going to need as much energy.

Sam Calisch

Exactly, yeah, completely misleading. A couple of percent of all of our energy needs are spent just moving around natural gas and pipelines. The mining, refining, and transportation of fossil fuels are responsible for a massive amount of our energy expenditures as a nation.

David Roberts

Right. You don't have to electrify that. It just goes away.

Wyatt Merrill

It's also just a very sort of defeatist attitude to say, well, my electricity is coming from coal, so I'm not going to get fossil fuels out of my home. It's like, well do you think it's always going to be coming from coal forever? It kind of suggests that it will always be that way and I think we know that's not the case.

David Roberts

Right. grids everywhere are improving and the way I try to put it is that like if you have an EV, if you buy a gas car, it's basically the same dirty for its lifetime. Right. It is a set amount of emissions per mile. But the EV you buy because the grid is getting cleaner and cleaner. Your EV is getting cleaner and cleaner every day. You have it, you don't have to do anything. It just is magically getting cleaner all the time. Same for any electric appliance.

Sam Calisch

Yeah, it's an appreciating asset. But as you rightfully point out, to get consumers to do stuff, we got to give them multiple reasons. So the climate reason is a great one, the saving money reason is a great one. But I think we also just need to deliver better experiences and luckily electric appliances tend to do that. I just put heat pumps in my parents' house where I'm currently visiting and previously we'd burned wood to keep the house warm my whole life. And this house is more comfortable than it's ever been in my entire life and especially with my aging parents not having to chop and haul firewood.

It's the benefits are huge.

David Roberts

Yeah. And I'm curious, this thing is coming out under the market for you. It's a big shift I would think from being a sort of data analytical nerd to being a consumer facing consumer interacting product company. A company with products. Right.

Wyatt Merrill

I got to tell you David, I actually met Sam for the first time in a program at Cyclotron Road called the Lab Embedded Entrepreneurship Program. So he's actually got all kinds of hidden talents for this stuff. But Sam, you should speak to that.

Sam Calisch

Well, I appreciate that way. Yeah. My background is in the technology but I've always had a passion about the energy data stuff and a lot of that goes back to being friends with Saul and geeking out on data sets together. But additionally there's just hire a great staff to do this. So I'm just so excited about the team we're building. We've got folks who have background building kind of mass mobilization campaigns. So I think there's really exciting stuff that's going to happen and I'm thrilled that we have a great team to do it.

David Roberts

Well, the purpose of that question and this will be we can wrap up with this question which was just we've discussed benefits in actual cooking, right? Like you can get a surge, you can get really fast, tightly controlled surges of energy so you can do your wok cooking with your mysterious accessory. You can boil water super fast faster than anything else. There's the cooking benefits, there's the resilience benefits. Meaning if power goes out you still can run your stove and potentially your refrigerator and other stuff. There's the sort of money saving benefits, avoiding the panel upgrade, maybe even getting a little extra income if you can hook up with time of use or time shifting if your utility is smart enough to do that stuff.

Behind all that, there's the climate benefit. My question is just if I opened a browser window in a year and saw an ad for Channing Street Copper Stove, what is your top line message to consumers? Which of all those benefits are you centering and sort of hooking your hopes on in terms of just sales?

Sam Calisch

I think this is one of the reasons I like calling these things energy storage equipment, ESE Appliances. I want to hang this on, this being a new class of appliance that delivers just a large number of benefits that are incomparable to existing appliance offerings. So you've got the climate benefits, the resilience benefits, the better performance. So I'm doing a good job not answering the question.

David Roberts

I think if you have an advertisement with a bullet, with a bullet pointed list, I don't think it's going to sell very well. What's the sizzle here?

Sam Calisch

That's why we have targeted ads. But I will say in our customer research, the things that really motivate people are the resilience aspects. And so being able to be prepared for what comes is a really strong motivator for people. And it cuts across party lines, it cuts across affiliations in a real way. So if you're going to force me to pick one, I might have to pick that one. But in truth, it's the portfolio.

David Roberts

Especially in California where you're starting, there's a lot of blackouts. The resilience thing is big in California.

Sam Calisch

Yeah, PG&E shuts off my power once every couple of weeks.

David Roberts

And actually, as usual, I lied about the final question. This is the final question. When are you starting out in the Bay Area? As I understand it, just selling stoves in the Bay Area. Do we know or have any idea when the rest of California or the rest of the country might have access?

Sam Calisch

Yeah, so we did a pre-order. We sold it out quickly, and we're going to deliver on that pre-order. And as you said, that's just in the Bay Area. And that's to make sure that we can provide really excellent support for the folks that chose to support us early. And then I would say I don't want to be bound by this, but I would say within 2023 we'll be in a broader market.

David Roberts

Interesting. Well, this is super fascinating. It's just one of those little areas of electrification where you peek through the keyhole, you're like, oh, there's like a whole world of interesting questions in there. So thank you guys for coming on and maybe we can reconvene in a year or two and see if easy appliances, see if our phrase is caught on and see how far they've spread.

Sam Calisch

Well, thanks so much for the interview, David. I really appreciate it.

Wyatt Merrill

Thank you.

David Roberts

Thank you for listening to the Volts podcast. It is ad-free, powered entirely by listeners like you. If you value conversations like this, please consider becoming a paid Volts subscriber at volts.wtf. Yes, that's volts.wtf, so that I can continue doing this work. Thank you so much. And I'll see you next time.

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Volts

Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)