Charlie and Channing Street Copper

Putting batteries into residential appliances like stoves and water heaters, we could create a large market for storage assets and avoid a bunch of costly and unnecessary upgrades across the distribution network, at electrical panels and inside our homes.

By Bill Hensley

THIS IS THE STORY OF CHARLIE, the 30-inch slide-in induction range with a four-burner cook-top, warming zone, and convection oven. But more than that, it’s a story of changing the way we think about cooking, about indoor air quality, about energy storage, about lowering our carbon emissions, about the planet on which we live, and about starting a company that delivers on all of these.

Charlie? We’ll get to that later.

Problem: an all-too-common source of indoor air pollution

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced in January 2023 it was considering a ban on gas stoves to address indoor pollution which can lead to health and respiratory problems. “This is a hidden hazard,” Richard Trumka Jr., an agency commissioner, said in an interview at the time of announcement. Natural gas stoves used in nearly 40 percent of homes in the U.S. (almost 70 percent in California) are known to emit air pollutants including nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter at levels that both the World Health Organization and the EPA have said are linked to respiratory illness, cardiovascular problems, cancer and other health conditions. While Mr. Trumka at the CPSC said, “any option is on the table” at the Federal level, he was also clear that regulations are always “forward-looking,” applying only to new products.

But at the local level, changes were already happening. In 2019, the City of Berkeley, California announced a ban on natural gas hookups in all new building construction to reduce greenhouse emissions. San Francisco enacted a similar ban in 2020, as did New York City in 2021. Of course, in these modern times there are differing points of view and countering actions — 20 states have now passed so-called “preemption laws” that prohibit cities from banning new natural gas hookups. After Bloomberg News published the January interview with Trumka, a number of loud voices seized the opportunity to score partisan points, even after Trumka clarified that the agency “isn’t coming for anyone’s gas stoves.” Meanwhile there is a growing body of research that gas cooking stoves in the home can contribute to short-and long-term adverse health effects for children with breathing problems such as asthma.

Back to Berkely

Berkeley is a city with a reputation for leadership in environmental activism and policy making. The gas hookup ban is particularly interesting because Berkeley is also a great food city, home to a number of Bay Area culinary institutions: Chez Panisse, founded by Alice Waters, is one of the originators of “California cuisine” and the farm-to-table movement, and has been the training ground for a number of great chefs. Berkeley Bowl has the best produce department on the West Coast (this writer’s opinion), and Vic’s Chaat House on Fourth Street at the base of Channing Way has been serving traditional Indian Chaat to customers coming from near and far for over 30 years.

Heading East on Channing — about halfway to the UC Berkeley campus — is the headquarters of the young company founded on a mission “to electrify our homes by building products that improve our daily lives and make it easy to access clean energy.” The company, Channing Street Copper, is designing “energy storage equipped appliances” with the belief that “to address climate change, we need to electrify every home and deploy a large amount of storage to the grid.” This is not a fringe idea. Scientists studying climate change generally agree that household use of natural gas will have to be significantly curtailed if the U.S. is to reach its decarbonization goals.

Channing Street Copper is led by CEO Eric Wilhelm (MIT graduate with a background that includes solar), Chief Scientist Sam Calisch (also from MIT and the co-author of Electrify with Saul Griffith), COO Tucker Gilman (Columbia graduate with a background in hydrogen storage), and Chief Marketing Officer Weldon Kennedy (Stanford Graduate School of Business). Calisch described the company origins: “About two years ago, my friend Saul Griffith and I took the analysis from our book, Electrify, and wrote a grant proposal aimed at supercharging the rate of electrification and the deployment of energy storage to support wind and solar. The theory was, if we put batteries into residential appliances like stoves and water heaters, we could create a large market for storage assets and avoid a bunch of costly and unnecessary upgrades across the distribution network, at electrical panels and inside our homes. Fortunately, our proposal found Wyatt Merrill, Ram Narayanamurthy, and others at the Department of Energy who recognized the potential to broaden access to electrification.” The result is Channing Street Copper.

We spoke with CMO Weldon Kennedy who picked up the story from there.

BILL: Let’s start with your story. What attracted you to this business?

WELDON: It was early in the pandemic, and the lockdown proved responsible for a large drop in emissions. That is, it proved if we stop doing what we’re doing globally, we can make a difference. But this eye-opener actually led me to a rather “dark place.” I thought “we’re doomed if the only way to cut emissions is to experience a global pandemic.” A friend in the environmental space said, “ok, so what will you do to be part of the solution?”

BILL: And being a marketer …

WELDON: From the marketing perspective, the question is “how do we make this a story of choice, not one of sacrifice?” Solar is winning because it’s become the cheapest source of electricity. Electric vehicles are winning because they are exciting to drive. People are discovering that low carbon diets can be delicious. I connected with a group of scientists working on a Department of Energy grant to develop appliances that store energy. This became the founding team at Channing Street Copper.

Say hello to Charlie

The first product from Channing Street Copper, Charlie combines induction cooking with battery storage. Induction uses electricity to directly heat the pan, resulting in the most powerful, precise and cleanest way to cook. But the installation complexity and cost of converting from gas (with 120V power supply to the 240V required for induction cooking) is a barrier.

The installation cost in the San Francisco Bay Area to go from gas to electric can start at around $2,500. Once the electrician — and often the general contractor as well — visit and quote, the costs can dampen the homeowner’s enthusiasm substantially.

With its on-board battery, Charlie can plug into a normal 120V wall outlet, and store the energy to drive the induction cooking when needed. And that battery also makes Charlie the only electric range that works during a power outage. It includes an outlet that allows the refrigerator and other home essentials to plug in and stay operational during these periods.

BILL: So, the induction range is not just the goal, but also a means to a greater goal?

WELDON: Yes, the goal is to get more people off gas and using electricity. To do that we need to make it easier to get installed. The battery is the key. We’re using a Lithium Iron Phosphate battery. This is not the Lithium-ion battery in your portable electronics. It’s massively heavy and inconvenient to move around, but of course Charlie stays put once it’s installed.

The battery is exceptionally efficient, safe and durable. It lasts many times longer than traditional lithium-ion and doesn’t have the same thermal runaway risk you see with those batteries.

BILL: How large is the battery?

Weldon: The battery in the Charlie is 3.5-inches tall x 24-inches x 30-inches and it weighs about 75 pounds.

BILL: Back to the goal …

WELDON: The goal is multifaceted. We deploy energy storage to the residential grid, deliver the best cooking technology available, and clean up the home air. This is important; cooking on gas in a home causes a 42 percent increased likelihood for childhood asthma. As the parent of a young child, I know how important this is.

BILL: I’ve not cooked with induction yet. Describe the experience.

WELDON: This is NOT the resistance coils we’re used to in electric. Induction is a great cooking experience; it’s fast, powerful and with a great amount of temperature control.

The battery gives it the storage boost and can keep the range going when the power goes out — other appliances as well. Plug in the refrigerator, router, etc. and it can deliver power for a couple of days. It delivers constant utility to the home, not just standing by. And let’s say you have solar installed and are on a net billing agreement with your electrical provider; fully charging and discharging everyday can deliver hundreds in annual savings — its benefit is way beyond “justin- case.”

BILL: And you are starting in Berkeley …

WELDON: Yes, the entire Bay Area is the starting point, then we will follow the incentive programs for batteries plus induction to new markets. Sometimes these incentives are quite local. And we are targeting other energy-storage-equipped appliance opportunities, like the instant hot water heater. Instant gas is a methane emitter in every on/off cycle. To convert to standard electric can be cost prohibitive — the 60 to 90 amps of power required is a huge service (most homes are only 100-200 amps total). Storing power in the battery for use when needed delivers the same benefit as in the induction range. Clothes dryers — gas burning driers — are other targets to replace with energy-storage-equipped options. As consumers, we’re used to these things and forget that they are poisoning us.

BILL: Back to the kitchen, how about replacing an existing electric range?

WELDON: Every other day, we get someone asking, “will it work to replace an electric stove?” The answer is yes, one version will plug into 220-240V. It works in new construction as well, delivering the same core benefits of resilience and load shifting, plus the emotional comfort — “I’m going to be okay if the power goes out” — a meaningful benefit that doesn’t show up on a spreadsheet.

BILL: This is Technology Designer Magazine after all, so let’s talk about design.

WELDON:The design was influenced by the durability viewpoint. The battery should be good for 20 years on normal cycling. Therefore, we need to ensure quality aesthetics and design that would fit a variety of styles — Charlie should not feel anomalous to the rest of the kitchen.

Our designer Mitch has an older Land Cruiser and used it as a reference point. He said, “the car still looks great but this old GPS on the dash spoils it.” Charlie will stay in your home and in your life. We’ve designed it to age gracefully, so it doesn’t look old in ten years. And we have optional California Walnut knobs that look and feel great.

BILL: Let’s talk about the road to market.

WELDON: Channing Street Copper is starting with a focus on the direct-to-customer experience, obviously involving the homeowner’s electrician or GC. We go to Farmers Markets, inviting people to test it. We talk about technology while we boil water to demonstrate its speed and power. It’s really fast, we’ve had a number of people comment, “I’ve never actually watched the kettle boil!” As we grow, we are eager to work with channel sales partners who give customers that same delightful experience and help them see how induction could enhance their kitchen.

BILL: As a former Bay Area resident, I’ve experienced power outages and rolling blackouts.

WELDON: Yes, when we say that this works even after the power goes out people really see the value.

BILL: Back to the roadmap …

WELDON: We are talking to showrooms to broaden the reach as we ramp up production. This is a unique opportunity to demonstrate the product firsthand. And we are in early conversations with multi-family unit (MDU) developers.

Again, this goes way beyond retrofit. Resilience matters and resonates with homeowners. And we firmly believe we all need to do our part to minimize climate change. Then of course, it’s developing the energy-storage-equipped options in the other appliance categories we talked about.

BILL: And why “Charlie?”

WELDON: It came from our product development cycle: Alpha… Beta… then “Charlie” sounded appropriate. And the branding also keeps it personal, which we like.

BILL: When will we see Charlie in the market?

WELDON: We are installing our first ones in May, and we couldn’t be more excited.