“Christchurch has a unique opportunity. The earthquake was devastating and horrific. But it has also left a great opportunity to rebuild - a clean slate on which they can create a showcase smart city, for the rest of the world to admire and imitate,” states Darrell D Smith, director of facilities and energy, real estate and facilities at Microsoft.
Smith is currently on a mission around the world to talk about smart buildings and cities - ones that can collect and integrate data with continuity and integrity, and use it to cut back on energy consumption, optimise assets and improve people’s productivity.
“Buildings consume 40 percent of the energy around the world. We need to reduce that. Capacity limits are coming into cities and countries, and there is a need to make the planet a better place,” states Smith.
Smith is visiting New Zealand on the back of Microsoft’s 18th TechEd conference in the country and is using the opportunity to catch up with the city councils and government at Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland, as well as meeting a host of real estate and engineering firms.
Smith’s journey started at Microsoft around two years back, when he, along with a group of engineers, embarked on a project to integrate the various systems and hardware points across the Microsoft campus in Redmond, to provide a single data picture for the facilities manager.
“The campus has 145 structures and is 8 million square feet big. The campus grew exponentially in the '90s and 2000s. There was a whole lot of construction, and there were no specific guidelines on equipment or protocol. We finally ended up with every design type you can think of and all of them operating as silos,” says Smith.
“We wanted to integrate the data coming from all the points. We could have ripped and replaced, which would have cost us millions. Or we could use software to extract data onto a single system - a 'one ring to rule them all'. This is precisely what we did with the Energy Smart Buildings (ESB) platform.”
Smith and his team created an overlaying software platform that works along with the existing building management system (BMS) to integrate data from different points and give a single picture not only of usage and energy consumption, but also faults that arise through the structures.
“We piloted it with three partners from December 2011. We finalised on one partner for a full deployment, which started in March 2012 and is set to finish in September 2013. However, it is an evolving story and I believe we will grow and develop the platform as we go along,” says Smith.
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According to him, the management provided by the solution has reduced energy consumption by 6 per cent to 10 per cent a year since March 2012, and has provided returns in 18 months.
Smith believes the system can be used as effectively across large geographies (like cities and campuses) as it can be in individual buildings, and can integrate a strong user interface (UI) for mobile app-like situations as well. According to him, Microsoft has enabled the platform to function with partner solutions, and for partners to deliver and work with customers, rather than be sold as a standalone element.
“The platform is meant for partners to build on top of it and deliver it to customers. We already have partners in the ground around the world, including New Zealand, who could start working with customers if they are interested in the platform. The market is ready for transition and we want to be a part of it. We want it to proliferate and become part of the common conversation,” concludes Smith.