The Bezos Earth Fund announced new donations of $443 million to a wide range of climate and environmental groups this week, including a $5.5 million grant to BlocPower, an energy efficiency technology start-up focused on building construction and retrofits in urban areas.
BlocPower, which is a CNBC Disruptor 50 company, has completed 1,000 green energy projects to date in the New York City area. It plans to use the Bezos grant to add 125 million buildings and additional cities to its BlocMaps software database, which identifies buildings in need of energy efficiency upgrades and helps building owners learn how to electrify and decarbonize properties.
This year, BlocPower also launched a WiFi service that offers low-income neighborhoods free internet and gives BlocPower a look at local energy usage, which it says can lead to potential energy savings of between 20%-70% annually for customers.
BlocPower, founded in 2014 and based in Brooklyn, has been focused on a business model that combines the traditional construction and engineering sector with climate technology, and increased investment opportunities in underserved communities. Driven by green and social justice mission, BlocPower says its energy-efficiency approach pays off in the form of increased building values and lowered building operating costs in many of New York’s disadvantaged communities. It has other projects underway in 24 additional U.S. cities.
“The goal of the Bezos Earth Fund is to support change agents who are seizing the challenges that this decisive decade presents,” Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund, said in a statement announcing this week’s grants. “Through these grants, we are advancing climate justice and the protection of nature, two areas that demand stronger action.”
Microsoft launched a solar project in August with Volt Energy, a Black-owned solar energy development firm, aimed at bringing jobs and clean energy projects to neglected urban communities and the tech giant closer to its goal of using 100% renewable energy by 2025.
BlocPower founder and CEO Donnel Baird told CNBC earlier this year that the level of interest from commercial buildings is “skyrocketing” when it comes to sustainability upgrades and energy efficiency. He estimates that 100 million buildings across the U.S. waste $100 billion a year on fossil fuels. “There are significant savings that can be introduced,” he said. And as people return to work, Baird said quality of air and the health impact of buildings is going to be receive greater scrutiny from workers.
In November, BlocPower began working with the city of Ithaca, New York, as it became the first U.S. municipality to begin operation on a 100% decarbonization plan, and with the first phase focused on the electricity usage of 1,000 residential buildings and 600 commercial buildings.
Baird told CNBC in August that as a diverse energy founder, he has seen firsthand in fundraising that the energy sector and venture capital world remain prone to bias.
“After George Floyd, a lot of Silicon Valley companies took a hard look in the mirror and said they needed to invest in more diverse entrepreneurs and more diverse companies,” Baird told CNBC. “But I haven’t seen a whole lot of progress here.”
He says the way many large corporations invest in climate also needs to shift. Companies should invest in renewable energy credits in the streets of Chicago, Seattle and low-income communities instead of in the Brazilian rainforests, where there is less corporate accountability.
BlocPower has received $50 million in venture investment from Kapor Capital, Goldman Sachs, Salesforce Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, among others, and was able to successfully raise capital during the pandemic.
Baird said there is a moral and ethical imperative for business leaders to invest in green infrastructure, but he added that companies including Goldman Sachs have invested $50 million in its green building business model for low-income communities because of the return on investment profile. “They’re not doing that for PR. They’re doing it because it’s a great story and they’re going to make money,” Baird said.
BlocPower’s grant is related to the Justice40 initiative, an effort in the U.S. to deliver at least 40% of the overall benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities. In all, $130 million was granted to advance the Justice40 initiative, awarding BlocPower and 18 other climate-focused organizations, according to the Bezos Earth Fund.
“Disadvantaged communities have borne the brunt of environmental damage for too long and are key players in driving the necessary solutions,” said Lauren Sanchez, Vice Chair of the Bezos Earth Fund. “With each grant we make, we are supporting leading institutions working with communities to advance climate justice efforts.”