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'Turning Buildings into Teslas'

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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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Entrepreneur, Donnel Baird wants to be known for ‘turning buildings into Teslas.’  His Brooklyn-based company, BlocPower, is on a mission to help small apartment buildings and other urban structures become more energy efficient.  Since its founding in 2014, the company has retrofitted more than 1,000 buildings in disadvantaged communities in New York City, with projects underway in 24 cities.  BlocPower uses proprietary software for analysis, leasing, project management, and monitoring of clean energy projects.  The software has brought clients savings between 20-70 percent annually. Referring to the residence he was working on, Baird said, “We’re putting in a smart, modern, all-electric heating system and cooling system that you can operate from your smartphone that's going to reduce this building's greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent.”  There is definitely a need for energy management but companies like BlocPower are filling a niche.  A report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy revealed that low-income households spend three times more of their income on energy costs compared to the median spending of non-low-income households.  While this report was based on data from 2017, the pandemic certainly hasn’t improved those numbers.  If anything, it has widened the gap. 

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This week, the neighboring city of Newark, New Jersey welcomed U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to discuss how Congress can help the department provide more energy-efficient homes nationwide. Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. urged Granholm saying, “We need to invest in more energy-efficient housing in New Jersey and nationwide to save Americans money on energy bills and protect the environment.”  Secretary Granholm toured an apartment complex called Grace West Manor, where multiple upgrades were completed through their Weather Authorization Program.  Since 2014, the projects completed include replacing water boilers, modernizing elevators, installing LED in-unit lighting, energy-efficient appliances and most recently, rooftop solar panels that generate power for approximately 28% of the electric load.  “We’ve been able to implement a lot here, and I would say most of that is due to support we’ve been able to leverage through the utility incentive program and especially the Weatherization Assistance Program,” said Lauren Zullo, director of Environmental Impact at Rose Community Management.  The work done in New Jersey could set the standard for energy efficiency upgrades across the country.  The state is also considering legislation that, if passed, promises to reinforce 100% clean energy targets and provide energy-savings to vulnerable communities.  

After the tour of Grace West Manor and discussions with local officials, Granholm said, “My takeaway from this is that we have a lot more to do in terms of flexibility on the federal level in terms of the programs that we have.” Acknowledging the challenge that lay ahead, she concluded, “Having a flexible program that is well-funded and has the resident in mind is really critical.” 

Energy Efficiency for All says we all have the right to a secure and healthy home and a clean and safe environment but reaching everyone continues to be a challenge.  To create a ‘flexible’ federal program for energy efficiency standards nationwide, what factors should be taken into consideration?  How will collaborating with utility companies speed up the process?

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