Microsoft Guest Post: Seattle Proves Power of Partnerships in Building Smart Cities

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I serve as a senior director with Microsoft’s Public Sector business unit, which has been working with Schneider Electric for some time to deliver on the concept of smart cities. In this guest post, I wanted to give my view on the power of partnerships in making smart cities a reality.

One big element of any smart city effort has to do with lowering carbon emissions. About a dozen cities in North America – including Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Toronto – are taking the effort quite seriously, by putting in place policies and regulations that require owners of large buildings to report on their carbon footprint. That opens the door for an ecosystem of businesses and technology partners to work with the city to drive energy efficiency at city-scale.  This is exciting for anyone interested in big data analytics and potential benefits for energy and environment.

At least, that’s the idea. In reality, it’s a difficult task because so many stakeholders are involved. We’ve got federal, state and local government agencies, commercial businesses, academic researchers that deal with infrastructure issues including transportation systems and city infrastructure. What’s more, the entity responsible for water, utilities and other infrastructure varies from city to city. It can be difficult to orchestrate all the players such that we can get the data we need to make a difference.

The good news is both global and community focused organizations are stepping in to help bring all the players together. On a global scale organizations like the Carbon Disclosure Project have been aggregating and reporting city data for several years now. More than 100 cities are reporting data to provide a global point of view on carbon footprint and water resources. The EUs 27 members have committed to implementing commercial, residential and public building energy regulations, an effort that has been underway for 10 years and shows that it can be a difficult journey to deliver results.

On a local level in the United States, some organizations are gaining momentum in working with the business community and city government to address carbon emissions. A prime example is Seattle 2030 District. The 2030 District is a public-private collaborative whose members include property owners and managers, professional stakeholders including engineering firms and consultants, and community stakeholders such as the City of Seattle and various conservation-minded groups. By the year 2030, the goal is to reduce by 50% CO2 emissions from buildings, consumption of fossil fuels for energy, and water consumption. For new construction, the goal is for the buildings to be carbon-neutral by the same year.

As the group’s web site says:

While individual buildings will have specific opportunities for energy reductions, a district approach will provide the opportunity for district-wide heat recovery, distributed generation, and other district energy efficiencies that can reduce the demand for resources. The 2030 District will provide members a roadmap to own, manage, and develop high performance buildings by leveraging existing market resources and by creating new tools and partnerships to overcome current market barriers.

In its 2013 Annual Report, the group says a total of 133 buildings, with a collective capacity of 38 million sq. ft., have joined in the challenge. That represents 37% of the total square footage in the district.

Another key element to driving energy efficiency on a citywide scale is having people with the expertise dedicated to the task who are part of the business community. Microsoft has the IT expertise but not the deep subject expertise in energy management like a Schneider Electric, which is another reason the partnership is so important to us.

There are real signs of progress. Since launching in 2011, buildings that are part of the Seattle 2030 District initiative have cut energy use by 21%, CO2 emissions related to transportation by 22% and water consumption by 7%. It’s good to see 2030 initiatives have started in other cities, including Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, with more than 20 additional cities showing interest in the concept.

My Schneider Electric colleague Alistair Pim has written previously about how it’ll take partnerships to make the concept of smart cities a reality. I couldn’t agree more and applaud the Seattle 2030 District for pulling diverse stakeholders together and demonstrating the power of partnerships.




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