“Turning buildings into Teslas” is a lofty goal, but that’s exactly Donnel Baird’s mission. The CEO and founder of BlocPower has created a company that’s working to get buildings across the U.S. off of fossil fuel-powered heating and cooling systems and onto electric heat pumps and solar panels.
But Baird wants to ensure those Tesla-esque buildings aren’t just available to the rich: BlocPower’s decarbonization mission is starting in low-income communities. Environmental justice is at the core of the Brooklyn-based startup’s business, and for Baird, that focus isn’t just about doing what’s right: It’s also good business. BlocPower has raised over $100 million to green urban buildings, including a $5.5 million grant from the Bezos Earth Fund and $30 million from Microsoft.
Even though it’s part of the company’s slogan, Tesla might not be the right comparison for BlocPower. The electric cars are a classic example of the “green premium”: pretty expensive, and still out of reach for most people. By contrast, Baird told Protocol that his goal is for BlocPower to be the Walmart or Amazon of clean tech, as in he wants to drive costs down and make electrification affordable “for every American.”
In Baird’s view, BlocPower’s investors are in it not just because they’re “nice people,” but because they see that serving low-income families with clean energy is a $5 trillion market opportunity.
He sat down with Protocol to talk about the future of sustainable homes, what’s needed to electrify the country at scale and the tech industry’s role in bringing about true climate justice.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Obviously the IRA was just passed, and part of it is consumer tax credits for the built environment. Do you feel like that’s enough action from a policy standpoint to get heat pumps into the mainstream, or is there additional federal or state legislation that is necessary?
There’s always more federal legislation that’s needed. Fighting climate change is going to be a lifelong pursuit if we’re lucky. But I do think it’s an incredible start. In terms of this, [with] the Senate bill, the research and development money that’s in the Chips Act for climate change — which a lot of people are not talking about — as well as the president’s use of the military Defense Production Act, which incentivizes domestic manufacturing, we have a lot of policy pieces in place that are more than enough to jumpstart a massive building electrification movement in the U.S.
Now we, as the private sector and citizens, have to take it and go off to the races.