Sun systems: D’town company pitches solar-powered internet • Brooklyn Paper

Sun systems: D’town company pitches solar-powered internet

The guys: Morris Cox, Donnel Baird and James Hendon of BlocPower are vying for a piece of $30 million in grants being issued by the city for resilliency technology.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

The next Hurricane Sandy is going to be a Bloc party.

That’s what BlocPower, one of the 27 finalists for a chunk of a $30 million Economic Development Corporation grant, hopes, anyway. The money is meant to develop tools that will help get small businesses on their feet faster after a disaster, and the energy efficiency company is run out of the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering’s Urban Future Lab, which focuses on research for sustainable cities. The company’s proposal combines an autonomous communication network — similar to the mesh network in Red Hook — with a solar power supply.

“Independent solar power in a network is really important for resiliency,” Baird said. “As we experienced during the hurricane, it becomes really difficult to manage emergency situations when communication lines go down.”

With the electric grid knocked out, the solar panels would continue to power the network, which would consist of computers in a neighborhood connected through nodes, according to the plan. The juice would allow people to communicate directly within the network’s geographic footprint. It would also be enough to power satellite antennas to pull in the internet. The network’s self-sufficiency means it would be more than a bad-weather fallback, Baird said. It could mean an end to reliance on traditional service providers such as Verizon or Time Warner.

“It’s technology that already exists and should be used more widely in Brooklyn,” he said.

In non-crisis times, the solar panels will reduce energy costs for the businesses that host them and the localized network can help monitor energy efficiency, he said.

BlocPower is looking at the feasibility of implementing the project in Canarsie and Brownsville, but focused its proposal on far-off areas in Queens and Staten Island.

Sandy, which affected an estimated 23,400 small businesses, was a wake-up call, according to the city’s pro-business arm.

“Sandy made it clear that the city really needed to increase resiliency,” said David Gilford, Economic Development Corporation vice president. “These small businesses can’t handle being closed for an extended period of time.”

The program, called Resiliency Innovations for a Stronger Economy, saw 100 entries from companies of all different sizes. The grants will range from $500,000 to $10 million, depending on the scope of the proposal. The BlocPower plan, which would reach about 275 businesses, would cost roughly $4 million.

Infrastructure to keep the lights on, the floodwaters out, and the lines of communication open is key to helping businesses recover, Gilford said.

“After Sandy the businesses that were able to get access to phone, data, and energy services were able to get back to work quickly,” he said.

Techno Files

Speaking of the Urban Future Lab, the business incubator has been declared a tax-free zone by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — meaning that companies getting off the ground there have a 10-year get-out-of-taxes-free card. The designation is part of the state’s SUNY Tax-free Areas to Revitalize and Transform Upstate NY program, which as the name implies is mostly focused on State University of New York campuses outside the city, but has now found its way to Downtown.


Political bloggers will come together in real life for a low-tech writers’ “hack-athon” in October. The blogging platform Politicus is hosting the shindig in the common area of an undisclosed Downtown residential building. Participants will break into groups, come up with ideas for politically minded posts, then present them and vote on which is best.


And lastly, a no-tech techno file. Congregation B’nai Avraham in Brooklyn Heights is throwing a block party and asking attendees from plugged-in Downtown and the surrounding area to leave the smartphones, laptops, and e-readers at home. The “unplugging” is meant to offer a modern reminder of what the Jewish shabbat is all about, with festivities for the eye-strain-weary beginning at 5 pm on Remsen Street between Clinton and Henry streets and including a barbecue dinner, a performance by Hasidic pop singer Moshe Hecht, and, if the website art is any indication, plenty of wine.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperl‌man@c‌ngloc‌al.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.

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