BlocPower CEO Donnel Baird stands next to a rooftop heat-pump system.

BlocPower Brings Energy Efficiency To Low & Moderate Income Families

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BlocPower uses proprietary technology to analyze, finance, and upgrade homes and buildings with the latest in energy-efficient, electric technology and appliances. In this way, it reduces soft costs, shortens project timelines, and makes the benefits of these upgrades accessible to all. Based in New York City, it is working with homeowners and building owners to make America’s built infrastructure more energy efficient.

Here’s the deal. For people and businesses looking to replace a gas stove, water heater, furnace, or boiler, BlocPower simplifies the entire process, gets the proper equipment ordered, takes care of any permitting issues, handles any rebate or incentive programs that apply, gets the equipment installed, and then does a free maintenance check on the equipment twice a year for 15 years. Can any big box store do that? Oh, one more thing. BlocPower takes care of financing, too, often through fixed, no money down leases.

BlocPower Raises $150 Million

On March 1, BlocPower announced the completion of a $150 million fund raising round that includes $130 million of debt financing led by Goldman Sachs, Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund, and several others. To date, it has raised over $250 million to finance building decarbonization in low income communities.

The investment round will expand the company’s heat pump and building electrification programs across the US. BlocPower will further develop its highly differentiated, proprietary BlocMaps SaaS analytics platform; grow its financing and administrative capabilities; and broaden its Civilian Climate Corps green workforce initiative, which focuses on training and hiring at-risk individuals in vulnerable communities.

“Since 2014, BlocPower has focused on decarbonizing America’s urban core, developing the green economy’s workforce, and bringing climate justice to underserved and vulnerable communities. We are fighting the climate crisis while improving quality of life for city residents. Series B equity and working capital financing from Goldman Sachs will allow us to accelerate building decarbonization across America. We will help low- to-moderate income communities to access the benefits of President Biden’s once in a lifetime green economy investments,” said Donnel Baird, CEO and founder of BlocPower.

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He added, “Whenever someone wants to make a change, or do something new, nothing is guaranteed to turn out according to best laid plans. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. You can’t renovate a home without dust and mess, and, sometimes, lead, mold, and asbestos. We go into low income communities to finance and upgrade 100 year old buildings, and sometimes we run into 100 year old surprises lurking in the walls, or hiding in the basement. But I’m proud that at BlocPower, we always finish what we start, and we clean up messes.”

BlocMaps Project Moves Forward

Since its last funding round in 2020, BlocPower has completed hundreds of green energy upgrades across the country, bringing the total number of completed projects to more than 5,000 apartments, homes, houses of worship and commercial buildings. BlocPower has also added several new American geographies to BlocMaps, which is now being used by municipalities and utilities in several US cities to develop and implement equitable, data-driven decarbonization strategies. In 2022, BlocPower’s Civilian Climate Corps was awarded a two-year, $108 million contract from New York City Mayor Eric Adams to train 3,000 city residents for clean energy jobs and to help reduce gun violence as part of the mayor’s Precision Employment Initiative.

The BlocMaps platform, which the startup sells as a software-as-a-service to the cities and community energy providers it partners with, was designed to solve those kinds of problems. Drawing on research conducted by U.S. Department of Energy labs, the software has constructed a ​“digital twin” of every building in the country.

“Our algorithm tells us what [new appliances] should be installed in each building” and serves as a record-keeping system for project design and implementation for the contractors, lenders, inspectors and other parties involved in the process, he said. So far, BlocMaps has driven an 80 percent reduction in soft costs for the company’s New York City projects,” Baird said. “We don’t think soft costs should be a barrier to fighting the climate crisis. That cannot be why the planet burns. So let’s give away the software damn near for free and eliminate a lot of the soft costs.”

BlocPower & Climate Change

“The biggest mess of all is the climate crisis.​ This is a $4 trillion problem,” Baird said. That’s his estimate of how much it will cost to retrofit all 125 million buildings in America with electric heat pumps, new insulation and windows, solar panels on rooftops suited for them, and the other features of a carbon-free U.S. building stock.

One of BlocPower’s key goals is to squeeze out the ​“soft costs” of building electrification retrofit projects, Baird tells Canary Media. That term encompasses a range of costs not tied directly to equipment or its installation, including identifying which buildings are well suited for different types of electrification projects, acquiring customers and managing the lengthy and complex inspection and permitting process with government agencies.

Those expenses can add up to tens of thousands of dollars before any work can be completed, he noted. That’s a major barrier preventing lower-income communities from even getting started on electrification. Similarly, many of the hundreds of thousands of contractors across the U.S. struggle to absorb the high upfront costs of building electrification.

Burning fossil fuels to heat buildings accounts for about one-tenth of U.S. carbon emissions, making building electrification key to fighting climate change, not to mention an important step in reducing the harm to human health caused by indoor fossil fuel use.

“We’re going to have to raise significant capital to electrify the whole country,” Baird said. The billions of dollars directed at home efficiency and electrification from last year’s Inflation Reduction Act are important, he said — but it’s just a beginning. Also on the company’s agenda is training the electricians, plumbers, heat pump installers and other skilled workers needed to make building electrification and decarbonization work.

The Takeaway

Donnel Baird was the inaugural recipient of the TIME 2022 “Dreamer of the Year” award, which was presented at the publication’s annual “Person of the Year” celebration. BlocPower was previously named to the second annual “TIME 100 Most Influential Companies” list which highlights companies that are making an extraordinary impact around the world.

“The dream of BlocPower is that we can go into an undervalued community and train and hire people to transform their own community and lead the way on helping all of America learn how to solve the climate crisis,” said Baird. “BlocPower’s vision is smarter, greener, and healthier buildings for everybody.”

There are so many local, state, national, and international agencies issuing reports and studies about climate change. Donnel Baird is actually doing something about it while focusing on social justice and making it profitable. That’s an extraordinary achievement.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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