Microsoft’s Mark Aggar on How IT Can Aid Energy Efficiency and the Environment

One of the distinguished panelists for our upcoming Xconomy Forum on March 26 (The Rise of Cleantech in the Northwest) is Mark Aggar, director of environmental technology strategy for Microsoft. Aggar has been at his current post for just about a year, having come over from the Windows Server product planning group to be part of the sustainability team run by chief environmental strategist Rob Bernard.

I spoke with Aggar yesterday to get his thoughts on Microsoft’s role in advancing energy efficiency and sustainable technologies. A native of England, Aggar has been in the IT industry for 20 years, having cut his teeth on network software at Portland, OR-based NCD before joining Microsoft in 1999. Aggar and the sustainability team work on ways to reduce the environmental footprint of IT, as well as how IT can help the environment. All told, they work closely with about 100 other people from different divisions within Microsoft such as Windows Server, Data Center Services, and Dynamics (a business management tool).

Aggar’s concerns range from making PCs, processors, and data centers more energy-efficient, to making car-pool transportation easier to arrange, to using sensors and intelligent monitoring software “to identify where big-value opportunities are,” he says. That means thinking about how everything from office buildings to large corporate campuses to the national electricity grid operate, and how to improve them using IT.

Here are a few of Aggar’s personal areas of interest (it’s not yet clear to me how much, if anything, Microsoft is doing in each of these areas—we’ll have to grill him on March 26):

Building management. “We see a lot of potential in dramatically driving up the efficiency of office buildings,” he says. That includes using “smart systems” to continuously evaluate a building’s energy usage and other factors.

Smart grids. “With new renewables coming onto the grid, you really have to be more integrated with the actual consumers of the energy,” says Aggar. Installing sensors and communications technology (plus software to coordinate it all) and being able to respond to energy demands in real-time is crucial to improving efficiency.

Water management. “This may not be such a big deal in the Northwest right now, but it will be in 20 to 30 years’ time,” he says. “You could dramatically change the amount of water with more intelligent use, like not having sprinklers running when it’s raining.” Aggar points out that agriculture uses 70 percent of the world’s freshwater resources, and a lot of that gets wasted. Smarter monitoring systems could help.

Electric vehicles. “Electric cars are an environmental paradox,” he says. “If you’re not careful, you’ll create more CO2, and have to build more roads,” because it might increase the number of drivers out there. Getting people to share vehicles instead is a huge opportunity, he says. Social software, combined with location and scheduling technologies, could help people carpool.

So how might Microsoft help with all of this? “We have a strong role to play in ensuring our products are both energy efficient and have minimal impact on the environment,” Aggar says. “We have very broad reach into all elements of people’s lives—homes, businesses. We have the platforms and the technologies to help accelerate systems to help us live a more sustainable life. Plus it’s the right thing to do. And there are a lot of people at Microsoft who feel that way.”

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