Microsoft doesn't just want to control the computer in your office building. It wants to control the building itself.

Today, the tech giant took a step toward that goal by partnering with the city of Seattle and Seattle Power and Light to equip four downtown buildings with its monitoring software. Microsoft announced the project this afternoon in a blog post.

The monitoring platform is powered by Microsoft's Azure cloud services, which includes SQL Server 2012 software for data analytics and SharePoint Server 2013 for organizing the information.

Microsoft recently installed the same platform on 125 buildings at its sprawling campus in Redmond, Washington (itself a city with a population of 41,000) and estimates it will save roughly $1.5 million in energy costs at the campus every year.

The system, which is based on fault detection and diagnosis technology, collects 500 million data points per day and helps Microsoft continually "tune" its buildings without having to manually check on how equipment is operating. It was paid back within eighteen months of commencing operation.

For the last two years, as it tested the platform at its own campus, Microsoft has been working with Seattle to expand into the real world. The new pilot project will be part of the city's 2030 District, a large group of downtown buildings that are being redesigned and retrofitted to reduce energy consumption 50 percent by 2030.

Microsoft's platform will be deployed at Seattle's Municipal Tower, the Sheraton Hotel, Boeing headquarters and a University of Washington Medicine research building. The buildings cumulatively make up 2 million square feet. 

"The stuff on our own campus is interesting, but it’s completely different when you start thinking about applying that to an actual city," said Rob Bernard, Microsoft’s chief environmental strategist, in an interview. "These are all very different types of buildings, so it will be interesting to see what the data illustrates."

Microsoft estimates that the monitoring system will help save 10 percent to 25 percent of energy use per year in the participating buildings. 

(Below: Engineers work in Microsoft's Redmond Operations Center (ROC) analyzing the performance of buildings. Photo courtesy of Microsoft.)

Microsoft is also partnering with Accenture's smart buildings group to target energy efficiency opportunities in the buildings monitored by the platform.

This pilot program is only the beginning of Microsoft's push into the smart building market, said Bernard. 

"The next target is getting after the 90 million square feet in Seattle under the 2030 District. And then it's how we get to billions of square feet. We have a fundamental belief that IT is going to change the buildings sector and we want to show that this can scale," he said.

Bernard said that Microsoft is currently working on deploying other smart building pilots around the world.

In a 2012 report, Deutsche Bank Climate Advisors found that the U.S. building sector could leverage $279 billion in efficiency investments, offering $1 trillion in savings over the next decade. One big driver of that is a systems-level approach to intelligent efficiency, which ACEEE estimated could cut U.S. energy consumption by more than 20 percent.

(For an excellent multimedia presentation on how the Microsoft platform was built, check out this story. We also featured an interview with Microsoft's facilities manager in this GTM podcast on the intelligent efficiency sector.)

Tags: intelligent efficiency, microsoft, seattle, seattle 2030, smart buildings, smart cities