Bright Lights, Big City, New Challenges

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The Official Blog of Microsoft's
Environmental Sustainability Team

Bright Lights, Big City, New Challenges

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On January 27th, at a press conference in Paris, we joined with Alstom Power to share the news that Microsoft technologies are being applied to Alstom’s energy management and control systems for distributed power generation. Alstom and Microsoft will get together with Utility and Power customers at CERAweek in early March to talk about how our two companies will work together using MS cloud technologies to better aggregate energy data to help sustainably manage cities in the near future.

What business does Microsoft, a software company, have in the energy sector? The answers lie in the rise of global urbanization and in Microsoft’s deeply ingrained approach to applying technology to large scale problems.

By 2025, a projected 4.8 billion of the world’s 8 billion people will live in cities. This rapid urbanization will significantly increase the demands on our energy infrastructure at the same moment that the prospect of finite resources and the environmental implications of energy consumption are posing major challenges to the status quo.

In the challenge of managing the energy needs of such complex systems, Microsoft and Alstom see the need for a radically evolved energy infrastructure – one in which information describing the use of energy throughout cities enables people to make better decisions about how to generate, distribute and use energy. As Microsoft has done for many years and in many industries, we are taking a partner approach, in which our platform technology enables our partner, Alstom, to create technology that solves this problem.

What’s more, sustainably managing the energy needs of an urbanized planet will demand not one partnership, but a network of partners. That is why Microsoft has a dedicated team working to sign the most dynamic companies in the key fields of, building energy management, smart grid and transportation. Collaboration between technology providers, businesses, citizens and government is needed to develop policies that incent sound behavioral change and drive economic growth. No single company has all the best answers, but a collaborative network of diverse solution partners in the utilities, building, and transportation industries -- like Microsoft’s partner network -- can work to achieve next level solutions.

The future is brightening. Buildings are becoming more energy-efficient. Electric vehicles will be more common in the near future. Renewable energy sources are being added to the mix. But what still needs to happen is the comprehensive integration and use of information about these complex systems, many of them decades old and incompatibly designed. Why? Efficiency. To illustrate:

· Building management systems will be optimizing energy consumption based on real time occupancy. The building systems will ask and act upon the question whether someone is in the office or travelling.

· Based on knowledge of how many people drove EVs to work today, what power draws should the building operator expect from the EV charging stations in the garage? Is it sunny enough that rooftop solar arrays could supply some of that power?

· If energy consumption is low today based on occupancy, weather, etc., could the building operator sell energy generated from solar panels on the roof to the building owner next door?

· How will the utility company see how these decisions affect energy demand in that neighborhood so that they can balance supply?

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Illustration of what the future energy landscape may look like

Finally, we believe the largest piece of this puzzle is the collection, movement and integration of data. That’s why the cloud is such a key component to this new energy project. The scalability provided through cloud computing will enable large amounts of data to be aggregated, analyzed, turned into actionable information and shared securely. From an IT perspective, the requirements are significant; in addition to being highly scalable and secure, the infrastructure will need to be reliable, interoperable, automated, easy-to-use, and available to multiple and remote users. Alstom is addressing these challenges in the development of their solutions using the cloud and our smart energy reference architecture (SERA)

Just as the microscope persuaded early scientists to recognize the existence of a world beyond simple eyesight, there is a wide array of data that can inform the production, distribution and consumption of energy, enabling conservation and driving efficiency. What we need are the tools to see the data, turn it into information and act on it.

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