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In a potential big win for renewable energy, Form Energy gets its first grid-scale battery installation

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Form Energy, which is developing what it calls ultra-low-cost, long-duration energy storage for the grid, has signed a contract with the Minnesota-based Great River Energy to develop a 1 megawatt, 150 megawatt hour pilot project.

The second-largest electric utility in the U.S., Great River Energy’s installation in Cambridge, Minn. will be the first commercial deployment of the venture-backed battery technology developer’s long-duration energy storage technology.

From Energy’s battery system is significant for its ability to deliver 1 megawatt of power for 150 hours — a huge leap over the lithium ion batteries currently in use for most grid-scale storage projects. Those battery systems can last for two- to four-hours.

The step change in the duration of energy delivery should allow energy storage projects to replace the peaking power plants that rely on coal and natural gas to smooth demand on the grid.

“Long duration energy storage solutions will play an entirely different role in a clean electricity system than the conventional battery storage systems being deployed at scale today,” said Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor at Princeton University who studies low-carbon energy systems engineering, in a statement. “Lithium-ion batteries are well suited to fast bursts of energy production, but they run out of energy after just a few hours. A true low-cost, long-duration energy storage solution that can sustain output for days, would fill gaps in wind and solar energy production that would otherwise require firing up a fossil-fueled power plant. A technology like that could make a reliable, affordable 100% renewable electricity system a real possibility,”

Backed with over $49 million in venture financing from investors including MIT’s The Engine investment vehicle; Eni Next, the corporate venture capital arm of the Italian energy firm Eni Spa, and the Bill Gates-backed sustainability focused investment firm, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Form Energy has developed a new storage technology called an “aqueous air” battery system.

“Our vision at Form Energy is to unlock the power of renewable energy to transform the grid with our proprietary long-duration storage. This project represents a bold step toward proving that vision of an affordable, renewable future is possible without sacrificing reliability,” said Mateo Jaramillo, the chief executive of Form Energy, in a statement.

Form’s pitch to utilities relies on more than just a groundbreaking energy storage technology, and includes an assessment of how best utilities can optimize their energy portfolios using a proprietary software analytics system. That software, was built to model high penetration renewables at a system level to figure out how storage can be combined with renewable energy to create a low-cost energy source that can deliver better returns to energy providers.

“Great River Energy is excited to partner with Form Energy on this important project. The electrical grid is increasingly supplied by renewable sources of energy. Commercially viable long-duration storage could increase reliability by ensuring that the power generated by renewable energy is available at all hours to serve our membership. Such storage could be particularly important during extreme weather conditions that last several days. Long-duration storage also provides an excellent hedge against volatile energy prices,” said Great River Energy Vice President and Chief Power Supply Officer Jon Brekke, in a statement.

Ultimately, this deployment is intended to be the first of many installations of Form Energy’s battery systems, according to the statement from both companies.

“Long duration energy storage solutions will play an entirely different role in a clean electricity system than the conventional battery storage systems being deployed at scale today,” said Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor at Princeton University who studies low-carbon energy systems engineering, in a statement. “Lithium-ion batteries are well suited to fast bursts of energy production, but they run out of energy after just a few hours. A true low-cost, long-duration energy storage solution that can sustain output for days, would fill gaps in wind and solar energy production that would otherwise require firing up a fossil-fueled power plant. A technology like that could make a reliable, affordable 100% renewable electricity system a real possibility,”

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/05/07/in-a-potential-big-win-for-renewable-energy-form-energy-gets-its-first-grid-scale-battery-installation/

Startups

Onboarding employees and maintaining culture in a remote work environment 

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It all happened so fast.

In a matter of weeks, companies everywhere shut down offices and went fully remote — with employees working from home and connecting over video and email instead of in-person. And those are just the people lucky enough to still have jobs.

To say this has made work more difficult is an understatement. But what about people who are just starting new jobs and those who are responsible for onboarding them? How do you get someone up to speed when you’ve never actually met them? How do you make them feel like part of the team when the team itself is scattered across the country and around the world?

How do you foster and maintain the culture when so many people are never in the same place?

This post aims to share lessons from leaders who run distributed companies — including GitLab, Elastic and others — about how to onboard employees and maintain culture in a remote work environment. Done right, these steps won’t just make things easier during this tough time; they will also help over the long-term as some teams move to more distributed, remote environments.

The lessons themselves fall into three main buckets:

Write it down

Writing things down may sound like more work, but having a record also forces people to think through processes and make sure they are consistent. Winging it isn’t good enough anymore. Neither is accepting different levels of training depending on who your manager is. It’s time to make what was somewhat informal and ad hoc more formal and concrete.

When it comes to onboarding, every company should ask themselves:

  • What is the process for onboarding?

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/05/27/onboarding-employees-and-maintaining-culture-in-a-remote-work-environment/

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Startups

Rise Gardens raises seed funding for an indoor hydroponic gardening system

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You don’t need a green thumb and a big backyard to grow baskets of fresh produce. In fact, according to Chicago-based Rise Gardens, you probably just need a bookshelf’s worth of space in your living room and an app.

Rise Gardens, an indoor hydroponic gardening system, has raised $2.6 million in seed funding for home-grown produce. The financing was led by True Ventures .

Rise Gardens sells a hardware and software indoor planting system. Customers receive a home garden kit and can assemble the system, which looks like a piece of furniture, in 45 minutes. Then, users can input Rise-provided plant pods in each row of the system to grow produce of their choice, from butter lettuce to tomatoes and arugula. The “garden” comes in three sizes, which Rise Gardens details as “matching the dimensions of an entryway table, a credenza and a shelf.”

Rise Gardens’ in-home plant system

Rise can offer this flexible solution thanks to hydroponics, a scientific method that grows plants using nutrients and water, rather than soil and sunlight. The planting system includes specific features to optimize growth. For example, Rise provides a meter for users to check the pH of the water.

From a software perspective, Rise has an app that tracks how often a user should water their plants. It also sells a subscription-based offering that brings new “seed pods” and nutrients to customers on a monthly basis.

While the system is intentionally designed to resemble furniture one would already have in the home, according to founder Hank Adams, it has a use beyond aesthetics.

The company uses vertical farming to produce food all on a vertical plane, and created a system that is both self-sustainable and flexible. In Rise’s case, it means that the user can grow root vegetables on one shelf, tomatoes and lettuce on the other.

Looking at Rise’s venture-backed competition, the concept of vertical farming isn’t new. It helps people bring more produce to fruition while staying conservative on space, because it builds up instead of out. Plus, the indoor system lets you grow year-round, instead of relying on Mother Nature.

Infarm closed a $100 million Series B in June for vertical farming tech targeted toward restaurants and grocery stores. Plenty has raised hundreds of millions for indoor farming technology. Other companies that have their eyes on indoor farming systems are AeroFarms, BrightFarms, Bowery Farming and Freight Farms.

But from a consumer angle, which is where Rise is coming from, the competition isn’t as fierce, claims founder Adams. He says that most solutions that exist in the market right now for consumers stick to growing a few herbs.

Avalow, for example, has built a self-watering, sub-irrigation-based and raised planter bed to help consumers grow herbs from the comfort of their homes.

Adams says that Rise wants to be a more wholesome solution.

“Our system was built to grow a lot of volume of food,” he said. “We didn’t want to grow something that was an overtly and purely visual interest.” He claims that Rise can grow a head of lettuce in 22 to 25 days.

Since shelter-in-place orders began, Adams claims that sales have increased 750% and Rise has sold 6,000 seeds per week in the last two months, which represents more than 1,500 pounds of produce. But he says this uptick in usage isn’t due to people avoiding the grocery stores, necessarily.

“We’re not telling you that you never have to go to a grocery store again after your system is a month old,” he said. “You will, but it does have an impact” on the total amount of groceries you buy.

So Rise is selling to someone who wants to supplement their food intake, not replace it with their own indoor farming setup. The hardware itself is more luxury than modest: Rise Gardens starts selling at $550. Adams claims that the system will pay for itself (in produce) after 16 months of usage.

So while an indoor farming system might not yet be a casual household appliance found next to the toaster, Adams finds hope for his currently luxurious company by peering at the past.

“In the past century there was a lack of appliances that felt like luxuries at the time, like dishwashers,” he said. “But now you can’t imagine living without a dishwasher or washing machine.”

A hopeful side effect of this pandemic is that nutrition will be more of a conversation, and priority, in all of our lives. With new cash, Rise Gardens is betting that that conversation around food sourcing will turn into action.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/05/27/rise-gardens-raises-seed-funding-for-a-indoor-hydroponic-gardening-system/

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Startups

Extra Crunch Live: Join Initialized’s Alexis Ohanian and Garry Tan for a live Q&A on Tuesday at 2pm EDT/11am PDT

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Extra Crunch Live is on fire, and the hits keep rolling! Next week, we’ll sit down with Initialized’s Alexis Ohanian and Garry Tan. You can catch the chat live on Tuesday, June 2 at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT.

Alexis Ohanian is the founder and former CEO of Reddit, and his investment portfolio includes Flexport, Ro and Papa. Garry Tan has invested in Instacart and Coinbase, to name a couple, and also has a background in entrepreneurship, having founded Posterous and Posthaven. Previously, Tan was a partner at Y Combinator for four years.

For those of you who aren’t caught up, Extra Crunch Live is a virtual speaker series that connects Extra Crunch members with the brightest minds in tech and VC where the audience has a chance to ask direct questions.

We’ll talk to Ohanian and Tan about how they’re advising their portfolio companies through the pandemic. Which startups should hunker and conserve cash, and which ones should sprint and advance? Is there a middle ground, and if so, what does it look like?

We’ll also discuss their outlook on economic recovery and opportunities that allow entrepreneurs to capitalize on the speed at which the world is changing. Which sectors are piquing their interest? Is Initialized going to invest aggressively in this ecosystem or be more risk-averse than usual? What’s it like doing deals over Zoom or Google Meet?

Extra Crunch members are encouraged to drop their questions in the Q&A chat for Ohanian and Tan. We’ll get to as many of them as possible, so please click here to join.

You can find the full details for our discussion below the break.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be chatting with GGV’s Hans Tung, Eventbrite’s Julia Hartz, Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra and Plaid’s Zach Perret. You can check out the full schedule here. Members also have access to the complete backlog of Extra Crunch Live episodes, which include chats with Kirsten Green, Roelof Botha, Mark Cuban and Aileen Lee.

See you there!

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/05/27/extra-crunch-live-join-initializeds-alexis-ohanian-and-garry-tan-for-a-live-qa-on-tuesday-at-2pm-edt-11am-pdt/

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