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BlocPower is Electrifying America One Building at a Time

A woman with blonde hair sits on a couch and points a remote at a BlocPower electric heater.

Think about how much time you spend indoors.

Now think about the electricity you use every time you’re inside. Your furnace, your oven, your air conditioning, your water heater; chances are, right now, they’re powered by fossil fuels.

According to Donnel Baird, the founder of BlocPower, 30% of American emissions are tied to our buildings.

So he created a company dedicated to “greening”— a process of making something more environmentally sound — buildings across the country. 

“There are 125 million buildings in America, coast to coast,” Baird, the founder of BlocPower, said at the TED Countdown Summit in Detroit, Michigan. “These buildings are where we cook and eat and work and pray and raise our kids. A lot of us spend almost 90% of our time indoors, in buildings — and these buildings are powered by fossil fuels.” 

Donnel Baird speaks on stage at TED
Donnel Baird speaks at TED Countdown Summit. July 11-14, 2023, Detroit, MI. Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED

Baird believes that there is no true way forward in responding to the climate crisis without greening all of the existing buildings in America — and that’s what BlocPower does. 

So far, the company has greened more than 1,200 buildings in 25 cities across the U.S. by replacing unhealthy fossil-fueled heating and cooling units with sustainable electric systems — especially those in low-income communities. 

Growing up in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, New York, Baird saw first-hand dangers of fossil fuel-powered buildings, when, as a child, he would heat his home by turning on the gas oven and opening the door — like millions of other Americans without clean, reliable HVAC systems.

While his parents already knew about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and insisted he keep a window open, more recent studies show that gas heating systems in many homes and buildings leak chemicals like benzene, methane, and nitrogen dioxide. 

These chemicals are toxic and can lead to grave health complications that can be worse than breathing in secondhand cigarette smoke, according to Baird.

Donnel Baird speaks on stage, smiling.
Donnel Baird speaks at TED Countdown Summit. July 11-14, 2023, Detroit, MI. Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED

But of course, there’s good news. 

“It’s 2023; we don’t live in ancient Mesopotamia,” Baird exclaimed. “We don’t have to dig up dead dinosaurs from the ground and burn them in our buildings for energy. We’ve got options!”

Whether it’s the use of electric appliances, cold climate heat pumps, solar panels, high-efficiency lighting, and a mix of other clean, green technologies, BlocPower is electrifying homes and buildings across America — and quickly.

In fact, the company recently announced a historic partnership with the city of Ithaca, New York, to decarbonize 100% of the city’s buildings by 2030.

“We can electrify buildings,” Baird said. “Is it simple? Is it easy? No… we have to solve a finance problem, a workforce problem, and a data problem.”

He continued to outline some solutions to these barriers. 

Donnel Baird stands on the TED stage in front of a screen.
Donnel Baird speaks at TED Countdown Summit. July 11-14, 2023, Detroit, MI. Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED

When it comes to the high cost of transitioning to electric energy, he poses the approach of a mortgage-like plan that spreads costs out over about 15 years, making monthly payments manageable — and often cheaper — than what families are already paying for fossil fuels.

As for the labor force, BlocPower trains and hires skilled electricians who are part of vulnerable and low-income communities, like veterans, formerly incarcerated or homeless folks, and people who live in areas with high risks of gun violence. 

Lastly, it’s important that electricians have reliable data, since every building in America is different (“like a snowflake,” Baird quipped). Working with the Bezos Earth Fund, BlocPower is aggregating data on all 125 million buildings in America.

A BlocPower map shows spots in New York City in low-income areas that need environmental upgrades.

With this data collection, families can search for their address, get an electrification work plan, and hand it to a qualified electrician to understand what they need. 

While, of course, electrification comes with its many unique challenges and barriers, Baird has created an approach dedicated to making American homes “smarter, healthier, and greener,” one project at a time.

“Electrification is possible,” Baird said. “If we can electrify one building, that means we can electrify a whole block of buildings. If we can electrify a whole block of buildings, we can electrify a neighborhood. If we can electrify a neighborhood, we can electrify a city. And if we can electrify a city, we can electrify a country.”

Header image courtesy of BlocPower.

Article Details

July 17, 2023 12:40 PM
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