“Faces of Change”: Why this Clean Energy Entrepreneur is Helping Black Communities Eliminate Fossil Fuel Use


Keeping warm during the winter was often a risky business for a climate technology entrepreneur Donnel Baird and other black children who grew up in New York City in the 1980s.

The Brooklyn apartment building that Baird’s family of four lived in didn’t have a working heating system, so he and his sister often relied on the kitchen oven to heat their one-bedroom apartment.

In addition to the heat, the furnace also pumped deadly carbon monoxide into the Baird family home.

BlocPower Founder and CEO Donnel Baird speaks to The Weather Channel during a recent “Faces of Change” segment. (Credit: The Weather Channel)

“We were opening the window to release the carbon monoxide,” Baird said The weather channel in his last Faces of change news segment. “My sister and I, as young children, had to make a habit of checking for air flow. “

Many residential and commercial properties in major cities across the United States were built decades ago and lack modern insulation or heating and ventilation systems.

They also depend on fossil fuels for their energy, which accounts for about 29% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to a July 2018 analysis from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Baird said CNBC earlier this year, about 100 million buildings across the country were wasting $ 100 billion a year on fossil fuels. These greenhouse gases are a major contributor to climate change and air pollution in black and brown communities across the country and the world.

Buildings like the one Baird grew up in are the leading cause of global CO2 emissions, according to a 2018 report from the International Energy Agency.

“There is so much energy that is wasted in low income communities across the country because the buildings are so old,” Baird said.

This pollution contributes to the health disparities of black Americans and often causes them to spend significantly more on energy bills.

The energy load of black households is 43% higher than that of non-Hispanic white households, according to a 2020 nonprofit report from the United States Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

Baird with the BlocPower team. (BlocPower)

Baird founded BlocPower in 2012 to help replace outdated and unnecessary heating systems with modern, green technology, including cold climate heat pumps that channel heat from the outside air to homes.

Its Brooklyn-based energy technology startup made CNBC‘s Disruptor 50 this year. In February, the company said it had raised $ 63 million in Series A funding. The Bezos Earth Fund recently invested $ 5.5 million in BlocPower.

“Disadvantaged communities have suffered the brunt of environmental damage for too long and are key players in finding the necessary solutions,” said the vice president of the Bezos Earth Fund. Lauren Sanchez recently said CNBC. “With every grant we make, we support leading institutions working with communities to advance climate justice efforts. “

Ultimately, Baird wants to help cities completely eliminate fossil fuel use from their buildings. In November, BlocPower helped Ithaca, New York, to become the first municipality in the country to launch a 100% decarbonization plan, according to CNBC.

“We want to make sure people are in safe and healthy buildings,” Baird said.

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