Microsoft Finds Quick Payback on Building IT Retrofits

Microsoft Finds Quick Payback on Building IT Retrofits

With Greenbuild underway in Toronto, Microsoft and Accenture yesterday published a white paper showing how the IT giant has applied a "software retrofit" to its Redmond, Wash., campus, with impressive energy efficiency results.

Microsoft, in partnership with Accenture and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, deployed smart building management systems on 2.6 million square feet of its corporate campus -- which totals 15 million square feet over 118 buildings. Through energy management, alarm management and fault detection and diagnosis, Microsoft expects to save more than $1 million per year in energy costs, with a payback time of less than 18 months.

The findings of the project, which is intended in part to be a learning experience to understand the potential and limitations of current building management systems, can be put to work for almost any company.

As Microsoft's Chief Environmental Strategist wrote in an article on Sustainable Facilities:

What we learned confirmed our hypothesis: Microsoft (and by extension, many organizations with similar real estate portfolios) don't need to undertake capital-intensive retrofits to cut building energy costs. Instead, we saw buildings become dramatically more efficient by introducing software to harness and utilize the building systems already in use. By integrating powerful analytics that add intelligence to existing building infrastructure, our buildings got smarter, more efficient and less costly to operate.

accenture white paperThe white paper lays out some other success stories from similar projects, including:

  • Accenture's smart buildings practice has observed similar results among its corporate clients. Deployments usually pay back in 18 to 24 months, with average energy savings of 10 to 30 percent.
  • A study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed that food services company Sysco used analytics to cut its energy use by 28 percent, a monthly savings of 18 million kWh.
  • Another Berkeley Lab study looked at the impact of continuous commissioning across 24 buildings. Average energy savings were 10 percent, with up to 25 percent energy savings in some buildings.

The free white paper is available for download from Microsoft.

Also this week, Microsoft released its latest annual sustainability report, which found a mixed bag of progress on green goals.

Notably, the company is behind on its top-level goal of reducing the carbon intensity of its operations by 30 percent by 2012. Microsoft chalks up the slow progress to the quick rise in demand for cloud computing services, which means more data centers and more energy use for Microsoft.

csr coverBut the company is pushing ahead on data center energy efficiency, which is one of three strategies that Microsoft is relying on to reach the target (the other two are reducing corporate travel and improving building energy efficiency -- of which the case study above is a central part).

Microsoft's "Generation 4" data center in Quincy, Wash., operates at a power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio of between 1.15 and 1.2 -- among the most efficient in the world -- and the company says it's on track achieve its goal of designing and constructing data centers that average 1.125 PUE by the end of 2012.

And Microsoft is working within the industry to help spread data center efficiency practices, notably with its work with the Green Grid to create water usage effectiveness and carbon usage effectiveness ratios.

Microsoft had its carbon footprint independently verified by a third-party auditor, and conforms to Global Reporting Initiative guidelines for sustainability report. The full report is available for download from Microsoft.