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By combining community outreach, education, and accessible financing, BlocPower makes electric heating and cooling possible for those most in need. As utility grids move towards 100% renewable energy, electrification is critical to the transition away from fossil fuel based living and to a carbon free future. BlocPower assists owners in making their buildings ready for clean, renewable grid power and also supports projects that include on-site renewables, such as photovoltaics. With its clean energy work focused in cities for maximum impact, BlocPower is helping to realize SDG Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy as well as Goal 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities.
The brainchild of community and political organizer Donnel Baird, BlocPower was founded in 2014 to respond to a community need which, through his experience, he discovered required a market-based solution. Having worked with government based solutions to provide clean energy in the past, Baird, CEO and founder of BlocPower, recognized the need for a self-perpetuating business model that could deliver answers to complex energy problems. This drove him to establish BlocPower as a for-profit venture that could create solutions for communities in need and expand his clean energy vision through reinvestment in the company.
BlocPower’s innovation lies at the intersection of clean energy technology, equitable access, and job creation. Through its platform and high-touch project management, the company aims to change the job and climate crisis into an opportunity for underserved communities, as General Manager/Co-Founder Keith Kinch described. BlocPower’s software first identifies properties in need of energy efficiency upgrades. The company then educates owners on the health, energy, and financial benefits of energy upgrades. To facilitate implementation, the organization builds and maintains relationships with local experts who are brought on to execute building upgrades. Through this model, BlocPower demonstrates the commitment to job creation that is core to the mission of their business.
As part of its project management process, BlocPower navigates and structures a financial package for its client partners, including government rebates, typically with no money down. With BlocPower’s assistance, many owners are able to envision financing and implementing critical infrastructure upgrades for the first time. By pairing projects with talented local contractors, the owner’s financial investment stays within the community. In doing so, BlocPower is leading a just and equitable transition to clean energy in the neighborhoods that need it most.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Keith Kinch “saw a lot of social and economic disparities and always thought about how I could make a difference when I got older.” Despite growing up in nearby neighborhoods, it took politics to bring the future leaders of BlocPower together. Kinch met Baird in the mid-2000s when he was working at the Democratic National Committee and Baird was working on the White House’s Green Stimulus package. They realized there was an opportunity to “fill a gap and have a triple bottom line” and to “lower carbon emissions, create jobs and other entrepreneurial opportunities,” said Kinch. Once committed to this idea, the two brought this plan to their original stomping grounds to test their model and serve the communities that supported them growing up.
Kinch reflected how in the early days of BlocPower there was often a direct connection to the building or owner they were seeking to assist. His familiarity of their projects in Brooklyn and Queens stemmed from biking or playing basketball nearby, but also having “friends and family living on these blocks. There is a tenant that I may have known when I was younger and now they’re benefiting from what I’m doing,” said Kinch. For Kinch, this work goes deeper than even community. “It’s personal. It should be,” he said and fatherhood drives his endeavors at BlocPower even further. Kinch elaborated, “If you’re going to be honest with your children as they get older, I want to say I was part of the process to make the world better for you.” Kinch’s deep commitment to BlocPower’s mission is serious, but he is not weighed down by the challenge. Kinch said, “As much as the work is very difficult, I don’t see it as work, I just see it as part of my daily life."
In BlocPower’s calculation, a project needs to check off three key attributes: local job creation, lower carbon emissions, and profitability, in that order of importance. This focused approach, as well as their stalwart commitment to integrity, is what Kinch sees as driving BlocPower’s ability to scale quickly and expand this model to more cities and communities in need.
These high-efficiency building upgrades not only deliver immediate benefits to the homeowner, in the form of energy cost savings and increased property value but longer term benefits to the greater community by decreasing reliance on fossil fuel energy systems and accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy. Simultaneously, BlocPower’s work increases access to affordable, clean energy, and demystifies available, but often confusing, government incentive programs.
This multifaceted impact is best summed up, by a quote from CEO Donnel Baird, “BlocPower is electrifying buildings much like Tesla is electrifying cars. By eliminating their use of fossil fuels and making them smarter and healthier, we’re increasing the health and wealth of building owners and occupants and creating economic opportunities in underserved communities.”
A case study shared on BlocPower’s website illustrates the impact realized for one project at St Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in White Plains, NY. After upgrading to a new VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) system St. Barts saw a 55% decrease in utility cost, equating to a 70% reduction in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, and an annual savings of $8,500.
According to a study by Global Industry Analysts, Inc. the U.S. Energy Retrofit Systems market is estimated at $24.9 Billion and growing. BlocPower’s unique community-based approach and proprietary software has them well positioned to be a leader in this space. By strategically selecting locations with complementary legislation, such as the C40 cities, and building relationships with local government agencies, equipment manufacturers, and contractors, BlocPower has cemented its place as an invaluable partner in accelerating clean-energy retrofits in the residential market. The core competencies and insights they have established not only prepare them for any anticipated infrastructure legislation but have given them a voice in shaping how that policy will be structured.
Now with more than 1,000 projects under their belt in New York City, the company has begun expansion into 24 additional locations. Just this year, they introduced a Climate Impact Note, aimed at retail investors who want to directly contribute to increasing community resiliency by scaling the BlocPower model.
Kinch explained the BlocPower model as an answer to, “How do we take the climate crisis and the job crisis and merge it into an opportunity on the city, state, and federal level?”
Recognizing that, like many industries, construction is facing a decline in local job and company creation, BlocPower is creating a market for these businesses to flourish and continue to operate in their communities. “A lot of our contracts are completed with contractors who live within a five to ten mile radius,” Kinch stated. That keeps money circulating in the local community, improving not only the livelihoods of the building owner but the community as a whole.
This commitment to community reverberates throughout the business model. By choosing to operate in underserved communities BlocPower not only acts as project manager but often takes on the roles of educator and trusted advisor for communities that historically have rocky relationships with government housing initiatives. Building these relationships takes time and BlocPower is willing to accept the impact to their sales cycle to stop the perpetual cycle of inequitable access to financing that has led to substandard housing and exacerbated the disproportional health disparities among communities of color.
The environmental benefits are clear. Project Drawdown includes distributed solar photovoltaics, high-efficiency heating and building retrofits key solutions if we are to stay below 1.5-2.0°C scenario. Increasing efficiency reduces wasted resources, and any reduction in oil and gas use means reduced GHG emissions. BlocPower’s goal is to continue to take their community approach and multiply it as they serve more cities across the country, taking what starts as smaller, individual emission reduction wins to exponential levels.
Keith Kinch, General Manager/Co-Founder
BlocPower is a technology company that brings low carbon heating and cooling systems to underserved communities through innovative financial and community based solutions. The Brooklyn based company uses its software platform to identify buildings with a critical need for infrastructure upgrades and provides project management, analysis as well as equipment leasing and monitoring to facilitate clean energy projects at no upfront cost to the building owner. Acting as a central hub for energy projects, BlocPower engages the communities in which they work to generate solid local jobs that are directly facilitating the transition to a clean energy future.