Abhishek's Favorite Fact.
(2022 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook)
“In 2020, the sustainable, nuclear and storage energy sectors employed an estimated 3.5 million Americans (…). Energy efficiency was still the largest employment sector, supporting close to 2.1 million jobs.”
Expanding Access to Energy Justice
Climate change, inequality, a need for resilient systems—these are some of the complex challenges facing the energy industry today. Abhishek Dash turns towards the challenges and rolls up his sleeves to imagine creative solutions. In fact, he imagines a better world.
Abhishek is the Vice President of Engineering Management at BlocPower, which finances electrification, efficiency, and clean energy projects in low-to-moderate income (LMI) communities. Beginning small with low-hanging building assets that are easy to electrify, the firm helps customers begin to see savings and benefits. As trust builds, BlocPower offers larger efficiency improvements, such as electric HVAC assets, electric vehicle charging, and storage.
To Abhishek and other employees at BlocPower, building trust comes before building anything physical. Before drafting a go-to-market strategy, the firm creates an advisory board bringing in community leaders. At this stage, details have not been fixed on how the company will finance the energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements for the specific low-income community.
Advisory groups inform the engineering process by outlining the needs of the specific community. Resiliency is often a concern, burdened by electricity grids that experience frequent brown-outs or black-outs. Utility costs can also directly affect a household’s standard of living, especially when bills are high and rising. It is not uncommon for low-income households to spend half their income towards utility expenses such as rent and power.
Many of BlocPower’s projects start with a local church or synagogue. Providing a source of revenue for a community organization builds the community’s confidence that it is possible for their homes as well.
It is by building a foundation of trust that BlocPower seeks to bring marginalized communities into this energy transition.
As he thinks about the future of energy, Abhishek imagines a world of possibilities. A virtual powerplant could be created from 500 single-family homes or 50 mid-sized multi-family homes. Households could generate revenue for themselves while helping to balance the electric grid. During emergencies or extreme weather, technology could equip people to help generate, store, and supply energy while controlling demand.
Abhishek was in Texas during the 2021 winter storm. Millions of people lost electricity, and as a result, 246 people lost their lives.
As he witnessed firsthand, resiliency in critical places can keep a community safe. During emergencies, Abhishek explains, people go to community spaces. With 24-hour storage and micro-grids, churches, schools, and other energy efficient spaces could offer safety and protection to their communities.
Policy can support this better future. “The energy industry is going to explode in the next five to ten years,” Abhishek says. “With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, I believe great things are coming.”
Already, public-private partnerships enable BlocPower to provide financing to LMI communities for electrified assets. Homeowners can lease a heat pump or electric water heater in the same way one might lease a car. These newer technologies are easier to maintain and have less risks.
Abhishek’s interests in energy go back his childhood in India. Fast growth and development have led to rising electricity demand and a changing grid. Fascinated by the history of electrification in the US, he studied the distinct ways that electricity is managed in both countries.
His expertise in engineering enables him to work on these challenges, but he does so with a broader perspective.
“We need to bring together the three pillars of energy justice—technology, markets, and policy—to make progress.”
Markets can motivate policy. It is not always easy to convince cities and municipalities to commit to energy justice and energy equality, but BlocPower has the technology to provide stakeholders to support these goals. Its track record gives large organizations the confidence to invest.
Abhishek believes that private companies and utilities need to work together. Fortunately, there is already a push by utilities and stakeholders towards equity. Abhishek points to Hawaii’s Public Utility Commission as an example that gives him hope for the future. The PUC regulates utility prices based on impact-driven goals, such as greenhouse gas emissions reductions and lowering prices for LMI communities.
Abhishek has seen up close the gross inequalities that exist with who is affected by pollution. He is encouraged by frameworks that are emerging with energy justice as a key factor to help companies choose where to invest and locate projects. One example he notes is President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which dedicates percentages of funding specifically to environmental justice communities.
While electrification remains a more expensive upfront proposition than maintaining the status quo, subsidies and public policies help to balance the equation. BlocPower’s financing tools do the rest.
Now, BlocPower is expanding, with city-wide programs on both coasts. Ithaca, NY and Mendlo Park, CA are both partnering with BlocPower for full-scale electrification of entire sectors of buildings.
Abhishek is excited for how these large-scale projects will show other cities what is possible, and more broadly, imagine the possibilities of an electric grid with more renewables, resilience, and efficiency, which will benefit the communities that have too often been left behind.
-Annabelle Swift, Associate, Clean Energy Business Network