A Successful Model for Saving Energy in Old Buildings

Innovations in Software and Mechanical Equipment Are Making Old Structures Energy-Efficient

A charming yellow house with wooden windows and green grassy garden. | Credit: Courtesy

One of the most perplexing challenges in addressing energy use and greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions in the built environment is how to make older homes and buildings more energy-efficient. My last article presented the importance of not tearing down older structures but renovating them for zero-net-energy performance or to get as close as possible to this target. Many have tried to create financial strategies to encourage people to retrofit homes, apartments, and buildings to high performance standards but without much success. This may be changing.

BlocPower, a New York–based energy technology startup, founded in 2012, is making an impact on older buildings in American cities. The company has completed energy projects in 1000 structures, mostly multi-dwelling buildings. BlocPower uses proprietary software to analyze, lease, retrofit, manage, and monitor these clean energy projects. The customers, moreover, are reaping 20-40 percent savings on their energy bills.

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BlocPower’s sweet spot is retrofitting multi-unit buildings. With heat pumps, they give each unit’s inhabitants control of their comfort. Filters provide healthy, purified air; the pumps and fans deliver a quiet airflow; and the non-combustion heating means lower asthma rates for the entire community. Heat pumps are highly efficient, low-maintenance, and a positive for the climate. The cooling from heat pumps is 20-50 percent more efficient than that from conventional window air-conditioning units. The heating from these same units is 2-3 times more efficient than boiler-based systems. The company’s smart monitoring ensures reliable performance.

The BlocPower model requires no money down, no loans, and offers utility bill savings. The framework usually involves a 15-year lease with warranty. The company makes its return from sharing in the savings on utility bills. BlocPower’s business model is similar to the one Sunrun developed for leasing and monitoring solar panels to homeowners.

One recently completed project involved three co-op buildings. These structures were facing common heating, cooling, and energy issues: high electric bills, drafty windows, and uneven heating and cooling. The work took seven days per unit, so the disruption to owners/tenants was brief. Photovoltaics were installed in the roofs to further reduce electric bills.

Another project retrofitted Saint Bartholomew’s Church, a 20,000-square-foot structure. The variable refrigerant flow system saves the church $8,500 annually by cutting their portion of the energy bill by 55 percent. GHG emissions were reduced by 70 percent, and BlocPower makes money. The company is poised to grow and expand geographically.

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