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


Keeping warm in winter was often a risky undertaking for Klimatech entrepreneurs Donnel Baird and other black children who grew up in New York in the 1980s.

The Brooklyn building where Baird’s family of four lived didn’t have a working heater, so he and his sister often relied on the kitchen stove to heat their one-room apartment.

In addition to the heat, the stove also pumped deadly carbon monoxide gas into the Baird family’s home.

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

“We would open the window to release the carbon monoxide,” said Baird The Weather Channel in its latest Faces of change News segment. “Me and my sister had to get into the habit of checking the airflow as small children.”

Many residential and commercial properties in major US cities were built decades ago and have neither modern insulation nor heating and ventilation systems.

They also rely on fossil fuels to keep them powered, which, according to a July 2018 analysis by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, accounts for about 29% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Baird told CNBC Earlier this year, an estimated 100 million buildings across the country wasted $ 100 billion annually 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 around the world.

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

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

This pollution adds to health inequalities for black Americans, and often leads them to spend much more on energy bills.

According to a 2020 nonprofit report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the energy burden for black households is 43% higher than for white non-Hispanic households.

Baird with the BlocPower team. (BlockPower)

Baird founded BlocPower in 2012 to replace outdated, wasteful heating systems with modern, environmentally friendly technology, including cold-climate heat pumps that divert heat from outside air into homes.

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

“Disadvantaged communities have borne the brunt of the environmental damage for too long and are key players in implementing the necessary solutions,” says Bezos Earth Fund Vice Chair Lauren Sanchez recently told CNBC. “With every grant we give, we support leading institutions that work with communities to advance climate justice efforts.”

Ultimately, Baird wants to help cities completely eliminate fossil fuel consumption for buildings. In November, BlocPower helped Ithaca, New York, become the first community in the country to initiate a 100 percent decarbonization plan CNBC.

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

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