A small team of engineers at Microsoft have invented a data-driven software solution that is slashing operating costs at the company’s 500-acre headquarters campus in Redmond, Wash., and has avoided a $60 million capital investment in energy efficiency in the process, according to the tech giant.
The team, led by director of facilities and energy Darrell Smith, have been working for more than three years to unify an incongruent network of 30,000 sensors from different eras: think several decades of different sensor technology and dozens of manufacturers. The software that he and his team built, strings together thousands of building sensors that track things like heaters, air conditioners, fans, and lights – harvesting billions of data points per week.
That data has given the team deep insights, enabled better diagnostics, and has allowed for far more intelligent decision making. A test run of the program in 13 Microsoft buildings provided staggering results – not only has Microsoft saved energy and millions in maintenance and utility costs, but the company now is hyper-aware of the way its buildings perform.
Whether a damper is stuck in Building 75 or a valve is leaky in Studio H, energy managers can detect even the tiniest issues from their high-tech dashboards at their desks, rather than having to jump into a truck to go find and fix the problem in person, Microsoft says.
In one building garage, exhaust fans had been mistakenly left on for a year to the tune of $66,000 of wasted energy. Within moments of coming online, the smart buildings solution sniffed out this fault and the problem was corrected. In another building, the software informed engineers about a pressurization issue in a chilled water system. The problem took less than five minutes to fix, resulting in $12,000 of savings each year.
The team now collects 500 million data transactions every 24 hours, and the smart buildings software presents engineers with prioritized lists of misbehaving equipment. Original plans to scrap outdated infrastructure and replace it with new would have cost upward of $60 million plus potential productivity costs associated with displacing staff during construction. The software solution has avoided this expense entirely.
The software, which is saving Microsoft millions of dollars, has been so successful that the company and its partners are now helping building managers across the world – including at the Pentagon – deploy the same solution. With commercial buildings consuming an estimated 40 percent of the world’s total energy, Microsoft says that “the potential is huge.”