Making buildings energy-smart at Microsoft
We have recently run a pilot programme on our corporate campus in Redmond, Wash., USA, aimed at using technology to improve the energy efficiency of the buildings.
What we learned from this pilot is that we 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.
What do smarter buildings do? Most modern commercial buildings already have built-in management systems that let building engineers and facility managers observe and manage equipment. A smarter building has 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
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.
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.
The result of our pilot programme were published in a white paper authored in collaboration with Accenture and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. We hope other organisations will learn from this report how 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.
This post has originally been published on Software Enabled Earth blog.