Making Buildings Energy-Smart at Microsoft
<p>Based on research on our own campus, we found that building owners don't need to undertake capital-intensive facility retrofits to cut building energy costs -- you can get big impacts with quick payback using an 'IT retrofit.'</p>
This week, Microsoft published a white paper detailing the results from a pilot program on our corporate campus in Redmond, Wash., aimed at using technology to improve the energy efficiency of the buildings on our campus. The paper was authored in collaboration with Accenture and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
What we learned from the pilot program (and which is detailed in the paper) is that we at Microsoft (and by extension, many organizations with 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.
There is a significant opportunity to use software to better manage energy use. Buildings are the largest contributor to global carbon emissions, accounting for about 40 percent of the overall footprint. Commercial buildings alone account for close to 20 percent, about half of the total. For many organizations, commercial buildings are often one of their single greatest operational expenses.
For existing buildings, retrofitting projects are often considered the primary means of cutting energy usage, but these solutions are capital-intensive, can displace building occupants and are often cost prohibitive. By looking to software as a solution, organizations can make the most out of their existing building portfolio and systems.
What do smarter buildings do? Most modern commercial buildings already have built-in building management systems that let building engineers and facility managers observe and manage building equipment. A smarter building places an additional layer of IT intelligence on top of that. These analytics can drive energy savings in three primary ways:
- By detecting and diagnosing faults in building equipment so that problems are addressed quickly
- By managing alarms from the building system so that engineers can focus on the most critical events
- By integrating data from building systems with external sources, such as utilities and weather data feeds, in order to help manage energy use holistically and encourage employees to save energy
The pilot at Microsoft found that a "smarter building" solution can be established with an upfront investment of less than 10 percent of annual energy expenditure, with an expected payback period of less than 18 months. In its work with corporate clients, Accenture, which helped manage the Microsoft pilot, has observed similar results -- deployments usually pay back in 18 to 24 months, with average energy savings of 10 to 30 percent.
At our campus in Redmond, our buildings are running more efficiently and saving the company money. Through the pilot program and our white paper, Microsoft wants to share this knowledge with other organizations so they can use IT successfully to improve the bottom line and reduce environmental impacts. We found that the question is not whether your company can afford a retrofit, it's whether you can afford not to make your buildings smarter.
You can learn more about the pilot by reading an article by our chief environmental strategist Rob Bernard that posted today in Sustainable Facility. You can also download and read the white paper by clicking here.