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Photo Credit: Alison Hathaway / Clinton Global Initiative
Wednesday
Aug 13
2014
August 13, 2014

Securing the Clean Energy Futures of America's Inner Cities

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Properties in inner cities often have some of the highest energy costs in America—costs that can consume up to 30 percent of their total operating budget—and frequently have a difficult time accessing the technology and financing necessary to convert to clean energy. Installing more energy-efficient products such as smart thermostats, LED lighting, and solar panels ultimately leads to lower electricity bills.

BlocPower—an early stage clean tech startup based in New York City, established as a 2013 Commitment to Action—aims to resolve these issues by organizing and financing energy efficiency and renewable energy retrofits of 1,000 churches, synagogues, charter schools, small businesses, and nonprofit buildings in American inner cities. We believe that by organizing portfolios, or “blocs," of clean energy retrofits in these community-based buildings, we can have an outsized impact on lowering energy costs for many of these organizations. We also plan to hire local low-income or unemployed residents to do the job. 

These efforts will simultaneously decrease carbon emissions, create “green jobs” for unemployed workers, and generate financial returns for investors as well as consumers. We believe that our Commitment to Action also represent an opportunity for communities in American inner cities to become leaders in the fight to halt climate change.

PHOTO CREDIT: BLOCPOWER

Connecting our CGI University engagement to our participation in CGI America has been critical to expanding our ability to learn from industry experts and solidify new partnerships across sectors. Con Edison, the major New York City utility company, has asked us to help them think through conversations with churches and community leaders in areas that must lower electrical consumption in order to prevent overburdening the electric grid. A team of graduates from Green City Force—which trains young adult public housing residents in New York City to perform high-level energy efficiency audits of buildings—has worked with us to audit six Catholic schools in the Bronx. Executives from Barclays Bank have given us great advice about the use of “special purpose vehicles” to house liability and mitigate the risk of default across a loan portfolio. Indiegogo, a fellow CGI University member, prompted us to explore how to crowdsource clean energy retrofits. Conversations with representatives of the New York State government have led us to develop plans for “community-led” microgrids.

Our CGI America 2014 Working Group, “The Modern Grid,” put us in the room with utility company CEOs, U.S. Department of Energy officials, and solar power installers and financiers to discuss the challenges and opportunities of rebooting America’s outdated electrical grid. A utility chief executive described his vision of what this could look like, comparing it to Apple’s Iphone: The Iphone, he argued, is a platform that allows you to access a range of services via apps. Apple doesn’t tell you which apps to download on your Iphone, but it creates a common framework and language for all apps that allows you to access products of your choosing. Similarly, a modern grid could allow customers to access a range of services such as basic electricity, battery storage, the sale of energy produced by renewable energy, and back-up or resiliency power.

Our Working Group raised complex questions and explored answers about the future of the modern grid. How, for example, do we create a grid that provides equitable access to electricity for all—a basic right for all Americans? How would utilities ensure that the costs of maintaining and upgrading the electric grid are passed along equitably to affluent environmentalist early adopters of solar energy, as well as low-income communities? What level of federal cybersecurity would we need to prevent cyber-attacks on America’s modern grid?

How would utilities ensure that the costs of maintaining and upgrading the electric grid are passed along equitably to affluent environmentalist early adopters of solar energy, as well as low-income communities?
 
As New Yorkers who lived through Hurricane Sandy, the BlocPower team recognizes how vital the conversation about the creation of a modern electrical grid is to the future of energy, electricity, resiliency, and climate change in America’s economy. With a commitment to retrofit 1,000 buildings, our CGI America 2014 experience has provided us with new and invaluable ways to think about how our work will further this shared goal.

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In June of 2014, President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton hosted the fourth meeting of CGI America, an annual event focused on finding solutions that promote economic recovery in the United States. For more information, visit cgiamerica.org.