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ForeFront Power received two 2021 Top Project of the Year Awards from Environment + Energy Leader for its solar projects developed in partnership with the California County of San Luis Obispo and the City of Ames, Iowa.

The County of San Luis Obispo County Operations Center 1.2-megawatt (MW) ground-mounted solar system received a Top Project of the Year Award for its benefits related to cleaner energy production, energy savings, greenhouse gas emissions reductions and cost savings. As the largest solar project in the County, the project represents a massive sustainability initiative that will provide the County of San Luis Obispo with over a million dollars of energy savings over the next 20 years. One judge stated, “This solar project in San Luis Obispo County is an important first step towards the implementation of more renewable energy projects in this and other counties.” 

The City of Ames’ SunSmart Ames community solar project received a Top Project of the Year Award for driving renewable energy adoption and demonstrating a commitment to sustainability within the Ames community. The community solar project allows any municipal electric customer to opt for locally-generated solar energy by purchasing shares of the facility’s production called “Power Packs.” One judge stated, “This is a very useful project and helps promote green projects by those who may not otherwise be able to support their own independent projects”

The Environment + Energy Leader Awards program works with unaffiliated judges who score entries based on rigorous criteria. Top products and projects were selected from across a variety of industries based on their success in providing significant sustainability and energy management results. The complete list of the winning products and projects were published in the 2021 Environment + Energy Leader Awards e-book.

Cuberg, a Silicon Valley start-up recently acquired by but EV battery giant Northvolt, was featured in CNBC. Cuberg co-founder and CEO Richard Wang described the company’s breakthrough lithium metal battery technology which could be twice as energy-dense as standard lithium-ion and would advance the electrification of the transportation sector.

“We’re going through a transformation of the industry as large as when oil came onto the marketplace for fueling vehicles in the first place. It’s as big as displacing the entire oil industry for transportation,” said Wang.

While Cuberg is not the only company in this space, what sets Cuberg apart from other lithium metal startups is that like lithium-ion batteries, it has a liquid electrolyte. Meanwhiles its competitors QuantumScape, backed by Volkswagen and Bill Gates, and Solid Power, backed by Ford and BMW, use a solid-state, oftentimes ceramics-based electrolyte.
Although solid-state tech shows promise, Wang says Cuberg’s liquid electrolyte makes its batteries far more compatible with existing lithium-ion production methods. This will allow Cuberg to scale up and commercialize much quicker.

While QuantumScape and Solid Power are partnering with big name automakers, Cuberg’s first customers are in the aviation industry. So far, Cuberg has partnerships with Boeing as well as aviation startups Beta Technologies, Ampaire and VoltAero.

Blokable Phoenix Rising Core77Blokable at Phoenix Rising was named a 2021 Core77 Design Awards honoree in the category of Design for Social Impact. This category recognizes projects designed to directly benefit social or humanitarian efforts such as community or environmental impact initiatives, products for underrepresented communities, distribution systems, and disaster relief. As the sole professional runner-up in the category, Blokable at Phoenix Rising was chosen by the Design for Social Impact Jury out of hundreds of finalists for its outstanding execution, insight, creativity, and intent.

Recognizing excellence in all areas of design enterprise, the Core77 Design Awards annually celebrates the richness of the design profession as well as the insight and perseverance of its practitioners. The Awards program remains dedicated to excellence and inclusivity, offering both students and professionals the opportunity to promote their best work on a global scale across 18 distinct design disciplines.

In a Fast Company interview, Doreen Lorenzo spoke to Natalie Nixon, president of Figure 8 Thinking, a global speaker, and a creativity strategist, and is the author of The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation, and Intuition at Work, which is an honoree of the 2021 Fast Company World Changing Ideas Awards.

Nixon grew up around women very gifted in the fiber arts, learning to sew herself at the age of 10. After attending Vassar and graduating with a double major in anthropology and Africana studies, she moved to New York City where she began sewing again. She started a small successful hat business once she realized she could sell her creations. Working at the intersection of business and fashion inspired her to enter a master’s program in global textile marketing studying in Israel and Germany. She later graduated from that program and was hired by a global sourcing division of the Limited Brands to work in Sri Lanka and Portugal.

Tired of being on airplanes all the time for work, Nixon decided to return to academia and teach in the fashion management program at Thomas Jefferson University. Her mentors encouraged her to pursue a PhD to broaden her career options in academia, but it wasn’t until she discovered the field of design management that decided to enter a PhD program in design management, earning in four years while working full-time. Following the completion of her PhD, Nixon launched the Strategic Design MBA program, an executive MBA program that integrated design thinking into how people were learning strategy, leadership, financial operations, and branding. 

Two years after launching that program, Nixon gave a TEDx talk proclaiming that the future of work is jazz that catapulted her consultancy career as companies invited her to speak to their teams. This led to the formation of Figure 8 Thinking, a repository for her practice that grew from a side hustle to her main focus. As she was building up Figure 8 Thinking, Nixon wrote The Creativity Leap to offer a simple and accessible way for people to think about creativity. Nixon explained, “The way I define creativity is that it’s about toggling between wonder and rigor to solve problems. Asking “what if” questions, being audacious, in awe, pausing and encouraging curiosity is all about wonder. Discipline, time on task, and focus is the rigor. Creativity is not doing whatever you feel like—it requires the wonder and the rigor.”

Nixon interviewed over 50 diverse people from a range of sectors and professions for The Creativity Leap. Her findings informed her development of the 3i Creativity framework: inquiry, improvisation, and intuition. The most successful leaders unabashedly embrace and talk about the role of intuition in building strategy. Inquiry is about asking questions that lead to discovery, exploration, and experimentation. Lastly, improvisation is about being present and adaptive. When working with organizations, Nixon’s goal is to equip them with the ability to start looking at very different sources of inspiration and learning, creating shifts in mindsets that ultimately lead to culture change.

The County of San Luis Obispo and ForeFront Power celebrated the completion of a 1.2 megawatts-DC (MWdc) solar energy project at the County Operations Center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the project site. Developed,  financed, owned, and operated by ForeFront Power, the project includes a total of 3,294 solar modules ground-mounted on 6 acres of land behind the County Honor Farm and parallel to Calif. State Highway 1. 

The County Operations Center solar project will yield significant electricity savings and cost stability for the eight departments benefitting from the project. The County expects that, over the next 20 years, the project will offset nearly 74 million pounds of carbon dioxide, and yield an estimated $6 million in net savings, which will reduce the County’s operating expenses and allow it to provide critical services to the community. The County Operations Center solar project aggregates electric meters from 12 County facilities, including the Main and Women’s Jail, Juvenile Services Center, Honor Farm, and other Sheriff, Public Works, Information Services, and Fleet facilities.

Beyond the planned energy cost savings, this project will also contribute to the County’s renewable energy procurement goals. “This project is a significant step forward to reaching our County goal of procuring 20 percent of our energy from renewable sources,” said Annie Secrest, Energy and Water Coordinator for the County of San Luis Obispo. “With this project energized, the County now derives over 12 percent of its energy from solar power. This helps us mitigate increasing electricity rates and better control our operating expenses.”

The County Operations Center solar project also generates enough electricity to avoid an additional 1,735 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. This is roughly equivalent to removing 375 gas-powered passenger vehicles from the road annually, or to the amount of carbon sequestered by 2,266 acres of nearby forest in one year.

The announcement was featured across local media including The San Luis Obispo Tribune and Paso Robles Daily News as well as solar publications including Solar Power World and Solar Builder Magazine.

cuberg-logoIn a Wall Street Journal exclusive, Swedish battery maker Northvolt announced its acquisition of Cuberg, a U.S.-based battery technology startup delivering high-performance lithium metal cells produced on existing lithium-ion manufacturing lines for electromobility solutions.  In addition to being covered in the Wall Street Journal, the Northvolt acquisition was reported by CleanTechnica, PV Magazine, Forbes, The Financial Times, The Mobilist, TechCrunch, Chemical & Engineering News, Recharge, and InsideEVs.

Cuberg spun out of Stanford University in 2015 with the goal of commercializing next-generation battery technology based on a groundbreaking liquid electrolyte combined with a lithium metal anode. Cuberg has already attracted customers including Boeing, BETA Technologies, Ampaire, and VoltAero with battery technology that is ideal for commercialized electric transportation. Their scalable manufacturing model is also a crucial asset for Northvolt as they prepare to meet the growing demand and shift towards electric transportation.

Northvolt supplies high-quality battery cells and systems, playing a vital role in reducing the carbon emissions of European countries while also minimizing their own carbon footprint from manufacturing lithium-ion battery technology. Recognizing the innovative solutions developed by Cuberg, Northvolt identified an opportunity to utilize Cuberg’s manufacturing capabilities to improve performance and safety of battery products while also reducing unit costs. 

Northvolt acquired the company to lead its U.S. operations, aiming to bridge ongoing research efforts between Europe and North America. Northvolt is establishing an advanced technology center in Silicon Valley-based on the Cuberg acquisition and is actively hiring top battery industry talent to support these efforts. In addition to accelerating the lithium metal cell development and optimizing the technology for automotive applications, the new center will focus on materials research and development for best-in-class lithium-ion anode and electrolyte technologies. 

Richard Wang, CEO and Co-founder of Cuberg, is eager for the operational and developmental growth which will follow this new transition, stating, “Northvolt brings incredible technology and manufacturing capabilities that will accelerate the commercialization and adoption of our lithium metal technology. Their deep engineering experience and bold spirit perfectly complement Cuberg’s own culture of rapid innovation”. 

In a Fast Company interview for her Designing Women series, Doreen Lorenzo spoke to co-founder and chief product officer of Civic Eagle, Yemi Adewunmi. Civic Eagle’s platform is designed to increase the transparency and accessibility of policy information through technology applications.

Adewunmi began her studies with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science with the intention to involve herself within the legal system. She eventually narrowed in on the importance of policy through work experiences as an analyst and researcher at the New York State Legislature as well as a Master’s degree in Public Administration. Adewunmi eventually recognized an opportunity to launch Civic Eagle as a software solution,  combining her passion for public policy and aptitude for creative problem-solving.

A milestone accomplishment for Adewunmi and Civic Eagle was the creation of Enview, a software platform designed for policy professionals. The established interface was designed to overcome the technological barrier of accessing important information, especially facilitating the process of viewing and sharing key details when working on initiatives involving team collaboration. By recognizing the importance of design thinking, Enview’s interface was developed to aid policy work by enhancing policy overview capabilities. In 2020, Adewunmi recognized a larger responsibility to assist people directly affected by advocacy work and policy changes. This led to Enview promoting complete open access to listed bills related to criminal justice reform and the pandemic. The app has become a pivotal tool used by advocacy groups like Sierra Club, Fair Fight, and America Votes for tracking countless pieces of legislation as they make their way through different government bodies. Enview by Civic Eagle helps them organize and strategize accordingly, so they can directly influence public policy in their favor.

Moving forward, Adewunmi sees government as the next major opportunity in adopting a greater emphasis on design-focused solutions, exploring its applications within public service touchpoints. Understanding the ability of a designer to provide intuitive interaction to directly maximize impact, Adewunmi believes designers should be heard when discussing policy solutions so that they can directly influence final decisions and outcomes.

Leading developer of distributed solar and energy storage projects, ForeFront Power completed seven solar projects in Illinois, adding 9.4 megawatts-DC (MWdc) / 5.5 megawatts-AC (MWac) of distributed power generation across the state.

In February 2021, Mooseheart Child City and School partnered with ForeFront Power to complete and flip the switch on the largest solar project in Kane County, Illinois. ForeFront Power installed the 2.8 megawatt ground-mounted solar field with 7,384 panels across eight acres of the 1,000-acre Mooseheart campus located 38 miles west of Chicago.The solar field will deliver power to the Mooseheart Child City and School, a residential childcare facility dedicated to youth in need, and is expected to save the non-profit millions of dollars in energy costs over the next 25 years.

“With the money saved over the next 25 years of the solar project’s life, we’ll be able to reinvest those dollars into other programs in order to better serve our youth,” said executive director of Mooseheart, Gary Urwiler.

Prior to the Mooseheart project, ForeFront announced the completion of three ground-mounted solar installations totaling 5.5 MWdc across three campuses in Huntley Community School District 158. Huntley has been one of the fastest-growing school districts in Illinois over the past decade, serving 8,900 PreK-12 students and employing more than 1,400 staff members. This portfolio of solar projects for Huntley became the largest solar-powered system at a school district in the State of Illinois.

“Huntley 158 is delighted to further our legacy of innovation by powering our operations with cost-effective, clean electricity from 15,100 solar panels,” said Dr. Scott Rowe, superintendent of Huntley 158. “We see the millions of dollars in utility bills saved thanks to these projects as an opportunity to reinvest taxpayer dollars directly into student education, allowing us to more effectively educate tomorrow’s leaders.”

Coupled with the Huntley portfolio, ForeFront developed three more solar projects in Marion, Illinois, with power sold to Aisin Illinois, a leading auto parts manufacturer and subsidiary of global Tier One auto supplier, AISIN Group. The clean electricity from the more than 2,900 solar panels will power manufacturing operations at Aisin MFG Illinois, Aisin Electronics Illinois, and Aisin Light Metals.

“We’re not just cutting emissions and costs with solar. We’re creating a more sustainable society and better serving the communities in which we operate,” said Jeff Copeland, general manager of environmental safety and energy at Aisin World Corp. of America. All of these projects received incentives through the state’s Adjustable Block Program (ABP) established by the Future Energy Jobs Act to support the development of new photovoltaic distributed generation and community solar projects in Illinois.

ForeFront’s work in Illinois has been covered by multiple regional and local publications, including PV-Tech, The Chicago Daily Herald, Energy News Network, The Chicago Tribune, Monterey County Weekly, PV Magazine, Solar Power World, Solar Industry Magazine and Solar Builder Magazine.

Blokable unveiled Blokable at Phoenix Rising, the world’s first vertically-integrated modular development, during a virtual ribbon cutting hosted by Blokable Co-CEOs Aaron Holm and Nelson del Rio. The virtual event featured a video overview of the project from concept to completion and an interactive discussion about the future of housing with an expert panel including Sen. David Frockt of the Washington State Senate; Mitch Kapor, Founder of Kapor Capital; and Stacey Rothgeb, Senior Engineer from the Buildings Research Group at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Developed on land owned by Valley Cities Behavioral Health Care, in Auburn, Wash., Blokable at Phoenix Rising is a community of five studio and seven 1-bedroom apartments reserved for individuals earning 30% of the Area Median Income. The project was funded through an innovative partnership between Blokable and the State of Washington at a cost to the State of $125,000 per door; less than half the average build cost of a new apartment in a region that faces a severe shortage of affordable housing.

Vertically Integrated Modular (VIM) development is Blokable’s proprietary platform for developing high-quality, low-cost housing at scale. As the developer and builder, Blokable owns and streamlines the entire development process, eliminates unnecessary costs, and de-risks every project, offering both market rate and not-for-profit landowners a turnkey, design-build service for a set price and guaranteed delivery.

The building has a state-of-the-art, steel structural system, with all-electric energy and a 50 to 100-year useful life. Interior features include antimicrobial surfaces, a sound attenuated living space, dimmable cove lighting, independent ventilation for comfort, and energy recovery ventilation for efficiency and lower utility costs. The all-electric facility costs 60% less for heating and cooling, and 30% less for overall utilities, and meets strict energy and environmental metrics that are becoming the standard for new construction in many states and municipalities.

“We believe dignified housing is a human right,” added Nelson del Rio, Co-CEO of Blokable. “A roof over your head is the foundation for human health and wellbeing, education, and economic opportunity. Put simply, if you have housing instability, everything else in your life is so much more complicated. Blokable at Phoenix Rising is the culmination of four years of work streamlining our process and our cost structure so that we can create as much equity as possible in communities. In addition to developing turnkey affordable housing for a fee, our next step is to develop and own real estate using the next generation of our building system.”

ForeFront Power, a leading developer of renewable energy solutions in the U.S., announced that it has hired energy market veteran Michael Smith as its new Chief Executive Officer. Smith has already stepped into his new role and oversees the company’s strategy and all business areas across the U.S. and Mexico. The announcement was covered in global financial and industry intelligence provider S&P Global Market Intelligence.

ForeFront Power specializes in helping business and public sector customers reduce their energy costs through development of on-site solar generation and energy storage projects. ForeFront Power is also one of the nation’s leading developers of community solar solutions, which allow commercial and residential customers of all income levels to benefit from solar generation, even if they are unable to host a solar project on-site. Under Smith’s leadership, the company will remain focused on these core areas, while continuing to expand its suite of energy solutions into adjacent products, services, and technologies.

“I’m thrilled to join ForeFront Power at this pivotal time in the development of customer-focused renewable energy solutions,” said Smith. “There is a transformation happening behind the meter as more customers choose to take control of their energy costs through on-site solar and other technologies. At the same time, more and more customers are pursuing community solar opportunities when they cannot host a system on-site. As a trusted brand in solar and storage, ForeFront Power is already on the leading edge of this shift. We have an incredibly experienced and talented team, and I look forward to working together as we position ourselves for continued growth.”

Before he joined ForeFront Power, Smith served as Senior Vice President, Distributed Energy, at Constellation, the retail energy subsidiary of Exelon Corp., where he was responsible for Constellation’s solar, energy efficiency, and energy asset operations businesses across the U.S. Earlier he served as Vice President, Innovation and Strategy Development, for Exelon Generation, and led Constellation Technology Ventures, Exelon’s venture investing organization.

Fri Forjindam SXSWestworldDoreen Lorenzo spoke with Fri Forjindam in a Fast Company interview for her Designing Women series featuring brilliant women throughout the design industry. Fri Forjindam is the co-owner and chief development officer for global entertainment development company Mycotoo that is responsible for creating award-winning destinations, from theme parks and live events to museums and immersive brand experiences worldwide.

After being raised in Cameroon, West Africa, Forjindam moved to the U.S. during high school where she discovered her love for theater. That love for theater took her to New York where theater thrived but then she then found herself moving to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment industry. In L.A. she got a job as an executive assistant to the owners of a theme park design company. There, she got to listen in and understand how the executives were problem-solving, strategizing, and designing in the industry. This helped her develop a multidisciplinary skill set, work her way up in the industry and eventually launch Mycotoo with her two business partners.

Forjindam recalled Mycotoo’s humble roots starting off in a home garage with a vision to help passionate organizations and individuals create immersive worlds. But in less than two years they landed a contract to design a theme park in Dubai and grew from three people to more than 160 designers, artists, show set architects, writers, and engineers. Mycotoo went on to design two full theme parks and later leveraged their talents beyond the theme park industry. Mycotoo discovered themed entertainment as a new vertical for the company when they teamed up with the agency Giant Spoon to create a San Diego Comic-Con activation for Warner Bros.’ Blade Runner 2049 and later brought SXSWestworld to life in Austin during SXSW 2018. While theme parks are gated, Forjindam explained how themed entertainment is instead porous and immersive.

Just as the notion of what a destination is changed for Mycotoo, that definition evolved even further once the pandemic hit. The living room would become the new destination in the age of social distancing. “If that immersive sensibility is now coming to me in the comforts of my living space, that means I, as a consumer, am actually inviting or accepting that experience into my home. If this is the new paradigm, it’s a much more intimate form of delivering and sharing experiences and will become more of a lifestyle addition,” explained Forjindam. The pandemic made Mycotoo proactive, socially aware and even more politically conscious.

Forjindam ended her interview by offering advice to young designers. “That thing that keeps you up at night, that you’re really excited about, follow through with it and see where it goes. Don’t treat that nudging as a side hustle. Treat it as a calling, as a little knock on destiny’s door.”

Blokable Blog Series

Blokable, the Seattle-based vertically integrated modular housing developer, launched its new blog series exploring the root causes of the U.S. housing crisis and how private and public sector collaboration can chart a different course for housing development.

The first post in the series, The housing market isn’t broken, it’s working perfectly as designed, was published by Blokable Co-CEO’s Aaron Holm and Nelson Del Rio. In the post they outlined how the housing market currently functions and why it is unable to meet the staggering affordable housing demand. Despite the billions of dollars governments have spent trying to provide housing stability, there are 38 million people living in poverty as of 2018 — a number that has since been exacerbated by the economic effects of Covid-19.

Holm and Del Rio posed the question “Can a free market ever provide all of the housing needed in our society?” They then pointed to the structure of the housing market and the housing development process itself as holding the answer to achieving efficiency in the industry.

They described how the many players such as architects, developers, financial institutions and contractors compete to maximize profit and minimize risk in housing creation leading to fragmented interests strangling the housing market. Holm and Del Rio revealed that affordable housing is actually more expensive to produce than market rate with the per-door build costs for affordable apartments now ranging from $500K to $1M due to developers needing to pay additional costs associated with obtaining public subsidies and managing legal and financial compliance. And while construction innovations such as modular and panelized building systems have been presented as possible solutions, these have their own high material and labor costs and the competition between these providers actually discourages housing innovation.

The Blokable Co-CEOs concluded their introduction post to their blog series writing, “If all the money in the world won’t fix housing, then perhaps we shouldn’t be trying to fix it at all. Perhaps we need to create a new housing paradigm that leverages innovation to drive down costs, reduces the need for subsidies, and creates new wealth.”