This spring, Cambridge, Mass. is putting new force behind its efforts to decarbonize multi-family buildings.

In its effort to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, Cambridge hopes to overcome challenges associated with transitioning residential buildings from fossil fuels to electrification by becoming the first city in New England to partner with BlocPower to finance, project manage and deliver building energy retrofits.

Under the city's $48,000 contract for a one-year pilot with the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company, BlocPower will evaluate candidates for energy retrofits, reach out to building owners and work with them to finish their projects. 

“If we as Cambridge or Massachusetts or a country are going to meet those [climate] goals," says Nikhil Nadkarni, energy planner for Cambridge, "we really need to find ways to make retrofits easy.” 

Nadkarni says the challenges for multi-family buildings involve everything from financing expensive technologies like heat pumps and solar panels, and navigating the local, state and federal incentives that make these projects viable in the long term. 

BlocPower will make recommendations about appropriate retrofits—in many cases converting existing heat and hot water systems to electric heat pumps. For the buildings who commit, the firm will provide zero-down financing, project management, and installation. BlocPower does similar work for other large and small municipalities, from New York City to San Jose, Calif. to Ithaca, N.Y. 

“There's a little bit of sticker shock at how much the upfront costs of some of these projects could be,” Nadkarni says. “For some of our condo buildings or smaller buildings, the idea of self managing this project, even after we've provided a lot of technical guidance, is kind of intimidating.”

Paradigm Energy Services, one of BlocPower’s contracting partners for the Cambridge pilot, has observed the growth in building electrification.

 “We're trying to figure out all types of ways to access a qualified labor pool and invest in getting them in a place where they can install this technology and any other technologies that are going to become available,” says Michael Hogan, Paradigm's founder and chief executive. “We would love more technicians.” 

The city’s target is five to 10 multi-family buildings participating in the first year, or roughly 100 units. But Nadkarni would not be surprised if they got more.

“There's a tremendous amount of interest in doing heat pumps, doing solar, making their buildings more efficient, making things more comfortable,” he says.

Ryan Merkin, vice president of business development at BlocPower, says that BlocPower and the city are exploring additional funding sources to increase the success of the program. He also says part of BlocPower's missions is “to serve low income and distressed communities who've been impacted by climate change issues and local pollution. That's where our financing comes into play, that we have this flexibility to finance projects where others wouldn't.”

Nadkarni agrees. 

“Climate justice and energy equity are something we've thought a lot about in the net zero action plan as a whole," he says. "I do think there's a lot of opportunity, if the pilot goes well.”