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Microsoft Uses Fault Detection, EMS and BAS To Manage Massive Portfolio

By Rita Tatum - January 2013 - Energy Efficiency


The value of intelligence, including fault detection and diagnostics, compounds astronomically when applied across a corporate or governmental real estate portfolio. Microsoft has about 125 buildings totaling roughly 15 million square feet on its Redmond, Wash., campus, as well as another 15 million square feet spread across the globe. The Redmond campus is the size of a medium-sized city, says Darrell Smith, director of facilities and energy for real estate and facilities.

Buildings were built at different times and design standards were not initially set. So the campus had many disparate BAS systems. "Nothing was talking to each other," says Smith. "Reporting was labor intensive." To prepare a quarterly report on energy use meant physically going into several tools to extract the information from every meter, which took weeks.

Ripping out and replacing $60 million of BAS systems to make everything the same was not feasible for a company with literally millions of data points. The company was looking for off-the-shelf solutions built on Microsoft technology that would provide fault detection and diagnosis, alarm management and energy management on one platform.

The company expects to reduce energy consumption by 10 percent. Microsoft began studying its options in 2009. By 2011, the company decided on three potential smart solutions from three different vendors and began installing and monitoring them in 13 buildings, representing about 2.6 million square feet of space.

Some of the buildings were nearly brand new while others were more than 20 years old. The analytical layer from each vendor was installed above the existing building management systems.

Following a year of study and evaluation, Smith says all three program components performed well, "but fault detection turned out to offer the largest value. We saw a 17 percent savings in one building in just one week," he says.

Now, Microsoft has selected one vendor from the three and is deploying the solution across its whole Redmond campus. Currently, about 4 to 5 million square feet have the smart solution in place, and Smith reports he'll save $1.5 million in energy costs for fiscal 2013. That savings is coming from "casting a net" of fault rules across the buildings to identify assets that are wasting energy because they are not working as designed or have incorrect set points. The payback is less than 18 months, which is particularly noteworthy since the state of Washington has rock-bottom power prices. "We have the third lowest utility rate in the country," Smith points out.

Identifying Problems, Costs

It's not that the buildings were designed inefficiently. A number of the worst performing were built to LEED Gold and LEED Silver standards. But under the old system, each building was retro-commissioned once every five years to make sure it was operating as designed. It was simply impossible with so many buildings to get to each one any faster.

That lag led to problems. For example, a sewer pump developed issues so the exhaust fan was taken off the carbon dioxide sensors and run at 100 percent. The override remained that way for a year before the problem was discovered and reversed.

Facilities personnel used to go and look to see what was broken. "Now, I know the actuator's broken before you tell me and I know how much it will cost if I don't make that repair," observes Smith.

But the intelligent building management system does more than indicate a $50 variable air volume fault versus a $20,000 air economizer problem.

"It also lets me drill down to the floor so I can evaluate the asset value and determine the priority," explains Smith. "It may be a $300 fault, but the impact on our business [could be] such that it's actually more important to fix the $300 fault before another fault that could represent $15,000 in wasted energy."

In addition to fault detection and diagnostics, Microsoft's system also manages alarms and assists in energy management functions. Smith estimates 2 million data points are currently connected across the campus. When all Microsoft buildings are on the new system, it may be handling 500 million data transactions every 24 hours.





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