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The clean energy company turning city blocks greener


By Jennifer Korn, CNN

BlocPower, a Brooklyn-based clean energy company, is bringing eco-friendly, all-electric heating and cooling systems to older buildings in lower income communities, with the goal of reducing carbon footprints and energy bills.

Backed by investors like Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group and Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund, BlocPower brings all-electric smart technology to heating, cooling and hot water systems that save building owners between 20% and 40% annually and ups property values, according to the company’s website. By replacing dated equipment like gas powered furnaces with heat pump systems, the company says it is able to dramatically change a building’s environmental footprint.

“We turn buildings into Teslas,” CEO Donnel Baird told CNN. “Just like Tesla rips the fossil fuel engines out of vehicles and replaces that with smart, modern, all electric engines, we now can rip all of the fossil fuel equipment out of our homes and schools and buildings and replace it with smart, modern, all electric, healthy equipment that’s good for the planet and good for our families.”

Having completed energy projects in over 1,200 buildings since its founding in 2014, BlocPower is now mapping all 125 million buildings across America with a grant from billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s Bezos Earth Fund. The startup will then analyze which are the most environmentally sustainable. Based on that, buildings will get a sustainability plan to figure out how to best decarbonize.

“Every American family that lives in their home or church or synagogue or mosque or school is going to get a free plan from us about how they can green their individual buildings based on what our computer software recommends,” said Baird. “Building that recommendation engine using the latest greatest technology from Silicon Valley is how we’re going to scale this thing.”

In addition to using “the latest greatest technology” to make much of the country greener, BlocPower is also taking a more traditional approach: going block by block, building by building, to speak directly with owners about installations.

“I was just taught that one-on-one conversations and one-on-one relationships were the most important kind of communication in order to move people into action,” said Baird on how his time as a community organizer in the poorest sections of Brooklyn informed his company’s approach. “Greening buildings can be really difficult and complicated and hard and a little scary and expensive….What we find after we’ve had thousands and thousands of one-on-one conversations is that it does form a block or a portfolio or a network of relationships and buildings of people who are connected with one another.”

Part of the challenge is BlocPower must convince building owners to make a sizable bet. A ductless air source heat pump like the one from BlocPower could require an investment of $25,000-$30,000 for a 2,000 square foot home, according to the company’s website, though this varies home by property. But BlocPower says the investment pays off over time in savings and other benefits.

Building owners that have turned to BlocPower say they see a real difference. Lincoln Eccles, an apartment building owner who installed the eco-friendly tech, had been looking to overhaul his heating system when his boiler died in the middle of the pandemic. BlocPower lowered bills, made the energy system quieter, cleaned the air and offered cooling solutions that tenants are thrilled with.

“This is hero status work,” Eccles told CNN Business. “I’ve literally had tenants come up to me and thank me for the system and tell me that they see a real savings in their actual electricity unit use with the the rate that we have from Con Edison.”

Through energy and heat pump technology, BlocPower is confident in its ability to upend the energy sector while reducing carbon footprints and bills. The company’s goal is to limit greenhouse gas emissions and lift up local communities through changing out older energy systems that rely on burning fossil fuels and employing local workers to complete the green construction projects, according to Baird.

“What needs to happen now is we need to shift gears and move the entire infrastructure of energy systems and buildings away from fossil fuels to clean energy,” said Baird. “We can’t persuade everybody that saving the planet is their top priority — although it should be — but ensuring that people are healthy, comfortable, saving money, those are top priority items, and these heat pumps allow us to do all of those things”

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