Microsoft Brings Smart Buildings to Seattle

| Guest Contributor

seattle sky line

By Bill Mitchel, Microsoft

When you look across the modern urban landscape, you can see buildings of all shapes and sizes, from iconic architectural landmarks like Seattle’s Space Needle to the mix of old and new buildings that define modern skylines. Buildings define the character of a city in their individuality, but they have one thing in common the world over–they consume a lot of energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), more than 4.2 million commercial buildings waste an average 30 percent of the energy that owners and tenants pay for. And commercial buildings account for nearly 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., which means that increasing a building’s energy efficiency has benefits across society.

Right in our backyard, the city of Seattle is thinking about how it can drive energy efficiency in those buildings. Seattle has a goal to better understand how to create economic opportunity for the city while saving energy and developing a sustainable urban environment. Microsoft has been working with Seattle’s Office of Economic Development over the last two years to develop an approach to driving energy efficiency at city scale. The result is a smart buildings pilot for downtown Seattle inspired by the smart buildings pilot that we implemented on Microsoft’s Redmond campus. That pilot used Big Data to provide forecasted energy savings of 10 percent per year, which we anticipate will be surpassed by the Seattle pilot with energy and maintenance savings between 10 and 25 percent.

Working with Seattle and its utility Seattle City Light, Microsoft has joined with the Seattle 2030 District, a public-private collaborative of downtown Seattle property owners and managers that has established a 50% energy use reduction goal by 2030. The pilot will increase energy efficiency in large commercial buildings across Seattle’s downtown corridor, the initial set of buildings totals approximately 2 million square feet. The intention is to expand the pilot over the next year. The cloud solution will collect data from the myriad systems in those buildings and use data analytics to provide a prescriptive approach to how the building management systems can be tuned to improve energy efficiency.

At the center of this pilot is the Accenture Smart Building & Energy Solutions, which identifies and implements energy savings opportunities, alongside Microsoft’s Azure cloud technology. The pilot will include a mix of buildings representing unique building uses, including the Seattle Municipal Tower, Sheraton Hotel, Boeing and the University of Washington School of Medicine’s research building in downtown’s South Lake Union neighborhood. The city is funding the project through a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to invest in next-generation energy efficiency technologies.

Seattle’s Office of Economic Development has a goal to create a robust local economy that implements solutions that drive sustainability across the city. There is a vibrant business community in Seattle that “gets” sustainability as an important part of the local economy. The city is home to the Bullitt Center, the greenest commercial building on the planet. Companies like McKinstry and MacDonald-Miller are progressive facilities management and engineering firms that understand the value of software in driving smart buildings analytics.

These are just a few examples of how Seattle is grounded in driving energy efficiency—even though it has some of the least expensive electricity rates in the nation. Seattle City Light understands the value of this program and other progressive conservation measures that serve the expanding energy requirements of a growing local economy while keeping electricity rates relatively low. Amazon, Nordstrom and Starbucks make the city their headquarters, while companies like Boeing and Microsoft are interconnected with Seattle through facilities and employees who work and live in the city.

By using Big Data to make buildings smarter and more efficient, Microsoft and its partners are helping cities like Seattle reduce their carbon footprint and address climate change. We firmly believe at Microsoft that IT innovation is the foundation of twenty-first century smart cities where Big Data will deliver services that make cities competitive, vibrant and sustainable places to work and live. This is the next generation of smart cities, and Seattle is just the beginning.

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