Seattle, Microsoft team up to bring energy efficiency downtown

Seattle, Microsoft team up to bring energy efficiency downtown

After successfully squeezing 10 percent energy savings out of 13 buildings at its headquarters, Microsoft is teaming up with Accenture to bring similar reductions to 2 million square feet of commercial property at other businesses in Seattle.

The new initiative, in the works for the past two years, is part of a plan by the Seattle Office of Economic Development to encourage and develop a city-wide approach to energy efficiency. Money from a U.S. Department of Energy grant will go toward helping fund the investments.

The partnership teams Microsoft with Seattle, local utility Seattle City Light and Seattle 2030 District, a public-private organization representing downtown property owners and managers striving for a 50 percent reduction in energy consumption across their buildings by 2030.

The initial set of buildings encompass more than 2 million square feet and represent a variety of use cases, including the Seattle Municipal Tower (the second tallest building in the city, serving 5,000 occupants), the Sheraton Hotel (shown above), Boeing's Seattle site and the University of Washington School of Medicine's research facility.

Only data needed

The anticipated savings across these buildings is 15 to 25 percent, said Bill Mitchel, senior director of Microsoft's Worldwide Public Sector division. "This is an IT-based solution and doesn't require anything from the building owner except access to the data in their systems," he said.

As you might expect, the approach includes Microsoft software and cloud services used both to analyze the collected information and to control the sensors, controls, meters and building management systems that already exist in the structures.

Specifically, the Windows Azure cloud is acting as storage for the terabytes of Big Data that is being generated, while Microsoft SQL Server 2012 is the database doing the processing. Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 was used to create the portal and dashboards where managers can monitor their energy efficiency metrics.

Other applications and technologies are involved, of course. That depends on the recommendations of the Accenture Smart Building & Energy Solutions team, but Mitchel won't name specific partners, saying that the technologies used will depend on overall objectives.

While the length of the onboarding process depends on the size of the building, Microsoft expects to have a meaningful set of results in Seattle within six months, Mitchel said.

More projects in the works

Microsoft is already evaluating how to extend the Seattle program, which joins its two other publicly disclosed smart energy management projects: its own campus initiatives and the so-called IssyGrid district smart-grid test involving 12 buildings in the French city of Issy-les-Moulineaux.

Expect additional projects to be disclosed in the near future, said Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist for Microsoft.

The place to look first are the cities involved in Microsoft's new global CityNext initiative, meant to encourage cities around the world to automate processes for functions including energy and water management, transportation and public safety. The "showcase" communities include Auckland, New Zealand; Barcelona; Buenos Aires; Hamburg; Manchester; Moscow; Philadelphia; and Hainan Province and Zhengzhou, China.

One of the most intriguing elements of the Seattle program is that businesses are eager to participate, despite the relatively low cost of energy in the region, he said. "We got our payback in less than 18 months, even though we have some of the cheapest electricity in the world," Bernard said. "Then it should definitely work in places where energy is much more expensive."

You'll also see Microsoft and Accenture use what they learn from Seattle to develop strategies and approaches that are specific to building types, he said. The challenges and tactics associated with an industrial warehouse, for example, are obviously very different from the concerns of someone managing a medical research facility.   

This story has been updated with details about Microsoft's CityNext program.

Sheraton Seattle image courtesy Sheraton