CNBC Disruptor 50

42. BlocPower

Founder: Donnel Baird (CEO), Keith Kinch
Launched: 2014
Headquarters: Brooklyn
$103 million
Valuation: N/A
Key technologies:
Artificial intelligence, cloud computing, digital twins, Internet of Things, machine learning
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 1 (No. 47 in 2021)

Persephone Kavallines

American buildings are dirty. If that's not always obvious from a superficial glance, it is the case when measured by their current energy consumption and efficiency.

Heating systems, including water heating and space heating, as well as insulation and lighting, are big drivers of energy usage in residential and commercial buildings. To meet the ambitious carbon reduction targets laid out by governments and agencies including the UN's IPCC, buildings need to be a focus. Direct energy and electricity use by buildings comprise roughly 38% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to the US Green Building Council.

BlocPower, a climate tech company focusing on greening America's urban infrastructure, is working in dozens of cities to build and retrofit existing real estate around renewable energy and energy efficiency concepts and technology, making the economics affordable, scalable, and profitable.

The majority of buildings that will make up urban environments through 2030 already exist, and cities are feeling the effects of climate change firsthand, making them likely areas for legislation and action. Even in big hubs of population growth and new construction, the deck is stacked in favor of older buildings – in New York City, it's as high as 85% of building inventory. 

BlocPower co-founder and CEO Donnel Baird estimates that 100 million buildings across the U.S. waste $100 billion a year on fossil fuels. Under his leadership, the start-up is winning significant city contracts and partnerships with some of the biggest companies in the world. 

Its most high-profile project to date is in the college town of Ithaca, New York, where BlocPower has been brought on to help make it the first net-zero municipality in the nation, a plan that includes electrification projects for 1,000 residential buildings and 600 commercial buildings in the first phase of a total 6,000 building inventory. Dozens of other cities have contacted BlocPower to explore similar projects.  

BlocPower CEO Baird is among the most high-profile Black CEOs in the climate tech field and his company's mission is aligned with the often neglected needs of lower-income communities, such as in Ithaca, where many buildings have weaker energy efficiency standards. The company is going beyond core energy efficiency building in its efforts to reduce inequities in technology access and high-tech job opportunities.

Last July, New York City awarded BlocPower a contract to provide alternative broadband access options to 10,000 residents in five NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) projects. In September, BlocPower won a $37 million contract from the New York City Mayor's Office to launch a new workforce development program that hires and trains green economy workers from within communities with a high risk of gun violence. By the end of 2021, BlocPower enrolled more than 1,000 people, 82% of whom were previously unemployed.

The start-up's early success has attracted investment from the Bezos Earth Fund, which provided it with a $5.5 million grant to expand its proprietary BlocMaps analytics platform to cover 125 million U.S. buildings and open-source it so government agencies, municipalities, building owners and others can use it to plan their decarbonization initiatives. BlocPower was also invited to join the Apple Impact Accelerator program.

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