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Seattle, Microsoft team up to make buildings more energy-efficient

mage courtesy of Sheraton Seattle Hotel Facebook page.

Already known as a leader in sustainable architecture, Seattle is teaming up with Microsoft to take green building to the next level with the help of big-data computing.

For the past three years, Microsoft has been using its cloud-based operating system Azure to squeeze more efficiency out of its own buildings. The software allows them to pull together hundreds of data points—everything from seeing where energy goes, to factoring in current weather conditions, says chief environmental strategist Rob Bernard.

“If you know it’s going to be an extremely hot day, for example, and the wind is blowing at night and the energy is cleaner, doesn’t it make sense to consider pre-cooling your buildings" Bernard asked, "so that you can use clean energy and you can also use less energy when everybody else is asking for energy?”

Bernard says so far, the company has seen a 10 percent energy savings in 13 of Microsoft’s buildings. And now the company is joining forces with the city of Seattle anda nonprofit group of its building owners to apply the technology in less predictable settings.

A pilot project funded with a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy will use Microsoft’s tools in four diverse buildings: the Seattle municipal tower, the Sheraton Hotel, some Boeing offices, and a University of Washington School of Medicine building.

The data goes much further than just telling a landlord he or she needs to upgrade some drafty windows.

“You may decide that because of the wind patterns and sun-loads that it turns out the windows on the north side of your building, from floors three to 15, are a problem. So where before you may have replaced everything and spent a lot of capital and disrupted all of your building, you may be able to be much more intelligent about your renovation,” Bernard said.

"It's sort of like an EKG machine for the human body. You look at certain vitals," said Brian Surratt with Seattle's Office of Economic Development, which worked with the Puget Sound Regional Council to come up with the idea for the project. It's meant to maximize two of the region's best areas of expertise: sustainable architecture and software design.

The goal is to reduce energy use by 10 to 25 percent, even in buildings that are already LEED-certified for efficiency. If they’re successful, six months from now, they can market the software to hundreds of other buildings and then expand to other parts of the country and the world.

It will also help the city reach the goal of its 2030 District, which aims to reduce energy consumption by 50 percent overall in central Seattle buildings by the year 2030.

For Microsoft, Seattle is just one of many places where it will be using big-data computing to strive for more sustainability. It's part of a larger project called CityNext, which is using technology to help conserve not just energy, but also water and other resources around the globe.

Unveiled at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft calls CityNext a global initiative that will create smart cities of the future by empowering businesses and citizens to re-imagine their futures and cultivate vibrant communities.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to