As heard on KQED: EcoBlock seeks neighborhood-wide electrification

Portrait of Therese Peffer, smiling in a navy blazer and white blouse.
Photo by Juliana Yamada via KQED

As profiled in a recent episode of KQED Public Radio’s housing and climate change podcast, the Oakland EcoBlock, a project led by researchers affiliated with the California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE) and the CITRIS Climate initiative, is approaching climate change from an often overlooked angle: the urban housing sector. Focusing on a neighborhood in East Oakland, the goal of the project is to cut carbon emissions of an entire city block by retrofitting the existing homes to make them more energy efficient and resilient.

Participating homeowners will receive project benefits for free, including insulation upgrades, electric appliances and solar panels that will pave the way for feasible neighborhood-scale electrification and supplanting of fossil fuel-powered appliances. In turn, UC Berkeley researchers will study the pilot to see how it can be improved and scaled up. 

“New construction is easy,” said Therese Peffer, CITRIS Climate researcher, CIEE associate director and EcoBlock’s principal investigator. “It’s sexy, and it’s fun, but it’s not where the biggest problem is. If we’re going to try to really combat climate change, it is looking at the existing buildings in this country.”

The project’s success thus far speaks to the strength and investment of the community it serves, which researchers recognize as a crucial aspect of turning sustainability ideas into reality.

“All of this is helping us remember that we’re interconnected and that we can rely on each other,” said Vivian Santana Pacheco, one of the neighborhood’s homeowners. “That’s the only way that we’re going to solve this climate crisis.”