Blocpower: Building Tomorrow's Green Cities

It was just another day for Donnel Baird as he was sitting on the steps of the reputed Columbia Business School overlooking the lush lawns, but not for long. He received a call from his first prospective client regarding an energy consumption analysis project that soon changed his life. The caller filled him on the details about his community office building, where it was identified that they could save about 70 percent on their electricity bills by going for solar energy. Baird saw a business opportunity, and he founded BlocPower to help businesses achieve significant cost savings, and at the same time, to create an impact on the society and the environment. True to its mission, BlocPower enables small and medium enterprise companies to achieve significant cost savings in their energy consumption on the micro level and in the long run, they are working toward reducing greenhouse gas emission that affects climate change in the U.S.

"Our software platform solves excess energy consumption problems for buildings owned by large companies as well as for low-income buildings in underserved communities"

The tech entrepreneur, Baird who is the CEO of BlocPower, talks about how the future of our planet has two possibilities—a clean and prosperous one or a climate catastrophe. Climate change is the most urgent threat facing our entire species and working together to implement environment-friendly solutions is the need of the hour. According to a report by Global Buildings Performance Network, buildings consume a third of the total energy used worldwide that contribute to about a 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. There are over five million medium-sized commercial buildings in the concrete jungle of the hustling and bustling cities of the U.S. Most of the offices that belong to small businesses, governments, non-profits, as well as corporations are buildings aged over thirty years and which over consume energy due to poor maintenance. Every year, billions of dollars are wasted on the over-consumption and waste of energy from non-renewable fossil fuel resources, and the air quality in the offices is also alarmingly unhealthy— which dramatically decreases worker productivity. There is a burning need to reduce the operating and energy costs and improve the health of the staff and the sustainability of their offices. While MNCs have realized the value of optimizing their buildings through renewable energy sources to cascade savings and also avoid gigatons of carbon emissions, smaller companies still lack the engineering and financial means to realize the benefits that large corporations already enjoy. Besides, the renewable and energy efficiency sector is highly inefficient and fragmented, so there are plenty of possibilities for software solutions collapse costs.

The Beginning of a New Wave

BlocPower is a full-stack startup that leverages smart technologies like machine learning and IoT to provide clean and efficient energy solutions for building owners.

Our highly effective technology solution stack is not just low cost but more accurate than our competitors

The startup connects utilities and governments to clean energy projects in SME buildings and also creates opportunities for underprivileged workers to install BlocPower retrofits. “Our software platform solves excess energy consumption problems for buildings owned by large companies as well as for low-income buildings in underserved communities,” says Baird. BlocPower follows the Lean Startup process, where customers are first interviewed about their needs, and based on the interaction, the BlocPower team identifies ways to address the challenges. The entire value chain of BlocPower is built around cutting-edge in-house software that is customer solution centric. “We develop software that collects more data to provide predictive analytics and lower the operational energy cost for our customers,” says Baird. “We believe in offering our clients solutions that are real time, and we focus on innovation in the long term with the necessary investment.”

Devices, Sensors, and a Lot of Data

The intuitive platform from BlocPower utilizes machine learning, IoT data, and structured finance to reduce the energy consumption of buildings in American cities. The product broadcasts real-time data: temperature, humidity, pressure, and air quality into the cloud, which is analyzed to provide a set of recommendations as to whether the air quality or energy systems in the building need to be upgraded, replaced, or optimized. Small, non-invasive, off-the-shelf sensors are installed in key locations that transmit data to a web interface built by the firm, and utility, government, and building owner clients are issued a user-login to view all data.

The firm has also developed a middleware software to connect with devices and sensors that stream IoT data from the building and energy systems to the cloud database and the dashboard. The user interface provides all the analytics and algorithms that aid in modifying the building’s design. From the construction to the installation of the equipment and measuring its performance, BlocPower’s team does it all. “Our highly effective technology solution stack is not just low cost but more accurate than our competitors,” says Baird. “We have a culture of delivering extraordinary high value to our client."

Machine learning algorithms are used to build a predictive model that can serve in identifying any equipment in the building that needs to be replaced. This technology also assists in improving the performance of the existing equipment. In an effort to refine the platform, a team of BlocPower’s highly trained mechanical engineers was sent to 350 buildings across New York to catalog energy equipment and measure its performance.
A thermodynamic model of these buildings was created as a training set for supervised machine learning engagement, where the team learned about the patterns of energy consumption. The output of the model was applied to 30,000 similar buildings.

Resolving an Intense Grid Management Complication

As an implementation highlight, Baird recounts about the story of how an investor-owned utility company in New York City wanted to reduce the energy consumption in a distressed portion of their grid to increase the grid’s performance. In order to achieve this, the utility needed to engage with many building owners to incentivize and encourage them to reduce the energy consumption in their buildings. BlocPower was hired by the New York City government to partner with the utility and building owners to reduce the energy usage in 500 multi-family buildings in a distressed portion of the investor-owned utility grid. The project was completed under budget and a year ahead of schedule and was able to initially reduce the energy consumed from the grid by over 2 MW. The firm also went on to install 200 solar panel projects to generate locally distributed power and assist the utility in solving the intense grid management problem. The BlocPower team brought about better energy efficiency numbers for the same 500 buildings through solar projects that ultimately helped the utility company and the city solve their grid management problems.

The road ahead for BlocPower will be all about having a strategic focus on combining excellent customer-driven solutions with innovation fueled by the goal of addressing climate change. Backed by the venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz along with reputed entrepreneurs, Mitch Kapor, and Eric Schmidt, BlocPower is pushing the envelope to strive for an eco-friendly future. The organization is collaborating with some of its partners in Philadelphia and Oakland California to build “green” solutions for low-income communities at scale across each city. BlocPower is also extremely excited to work with the Baltimore City Public School in troubleshooting the problems in their heating system. There is an undivided focus to increase its clientele across 25 American cities and also expand to newer markets abroad in Asia and Africa. A pilot project in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a hydroelectric utility company, Virunga is also underway.

From being a member at The Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at the Columbia Business School—a program that nurtures the culture of students developing business solutions that have extraordinary financial and social impact—Baird has come a long way in giving life to his vision for a cleaner planet. Sure enough, with the right mix of technology and social responsibility, his dreams are not a far-off proposition.


New York, NY

Donnel Baird, Founder & CEO

Offers a platform that uses machine learning and IoT to scale energy efficiency in American inner cities