The goal of the EcoBlock research project is to explore strategies for resilience and the rapid, equitable, and affordable reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through urban block-scale retrofitting. This involves identifying and managing social, legal, financial, and technological challenges. We will develop a prototype EcoBlock in order to demonstrate the technical feasibility of renovating a residential block with resource efficiency and electrification. A community solar microgrid has been engineered and, if funding is available, will be constructed.

The project will:

  • Conduct home performance, energy, and water efficiency retrofits in existing homes and small businesses
  • Leverage economies of scale of block-level retrofits
  • Switch appliances and equipment to electric
  • If funding is available, couple energy efficiency with a renewable energy microgrid

The EcoBlock project will demonstrate several strategies to provide resilience through:

  • Energy retrofits (e.g., insulation, air sealing, efficient electric appliances)
  • Water efficiency upgrades (e.g., efficient fixtures & appliances, reuse water/greywater)
  • Shared electrical assets (e.g., photovoltaic array & battery storage)
  • Mobility improvements (e.g., shared electric vehicle with curbside charging)

The EcoBlock team is partnering with the City of Oakland to address permitting and regulatory considerations.

Project Conception and Goal

Buildings consume about half the energy used in the US. Getting all buildings to net zero emissions is a critical task for climate change mitigation, but new building construction creates significant new emissions—typically two to four times more than renovations—and house-by-house retrofits are too slow.

The EcoBlock concept recognizes the block as a common unit of organization in urban and suburban America – in fact, most cities in the world. Blocks come in different sizes and shapes, but the basic block structure appears in all places with moderate to high population density. The EcoBlock aims to harness that structure to make clean technology more affordable.

The Oakland EcoBlock project aims to demonstrate technical, social, legal, and financial methods for radically reducing the environmental footprint of buildings through cost-effective retrofits at the block scale. The project is led by UC Berkeley and primarily funded by the California Energy Commission to support California legal mandates:

Aerial view of residential blocks
The EcoBlock aims to harness the block structure to make clean energy more affordable.
In late 2019, UC Berkeley conducted a campaign to recruit a demonstration site, asking blocks to self-elect themselves, and chose a block in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland in April 2020. The project team has conducted energy audits on residences and created engineering and design documents. The research team has helped the block homeowners create a nonprofit Association to manage and operate the microgrid. The in-home and block-level retrofits are currently under construction.

Conceptual Drawings

EcoBlock is one of four grant recipients of the California Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program, which invests in scientific and technological research to accelerate the transformation of the electricity sector to meet the state’s energy and climate goals.

EPIC Grant Award Recipients
A map of the EPIC grant award recipients. Credit: Page Southerland Page