High-tech Texas hotel looks to set trends in energy use
 
High-tech Texas hotel looks to set trends in energy use
11 DECEMBER 2019 1:17 PM

Converted from a historic office building, The Sinclair merges the old with the new, with tech advancements that include an Ethernet power solution that is expected to be trend-setting.

FORT WORTH, Texas—Touted as the first hotel in the world to use Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology for electrical throughout, The Sinclair hotel is expected to be a model not just for the hotel industry, but for construction around the world, GM Tammy Vallejos said.

The technology allows for both electric power and data to be transmitted by a single Ethernet cord, which Vallejos explained eliminates the need for a lot of live wires throughout the building, making it a safer solution for guests.

It also means that every device in the hotel—down to each light bulb—has its own IP address.

“Each piece of equipment is on a network,” Vallejos said. If a light bulb burns out, that network “will send maintenance personnel an email. … We will be able to track issues before guests have to be inconvenienced by those things.”

Instead of a traditional diesel generator, the hotel—a 164-room, 16-story boutique that is part of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection—is on a lithium ion battery backup energy system, which is able to run the entire hotel for at least seven days, she said.

The battery requires less maintenance than diesel generator systems, which “have been failing quite a lot,” she said, noting that outages like the ones that have happened recently in New York City “will not happen here at The Sinclair.”

Standing apart
The novel approach to energy enables many other neat tech features that are likely to surprise and delight guests when The Sinclair fully opens for bookings in the first quarter of 2020. Feedback from guests welcomed since a soft opening in November has been only positive, Vallejos said.

These features include touch panels in the guestroom for opening window shades and dimming or changing the color of lights, and tech-savvy mirrors from which guests can stream music or order in-room dining. Shower temperatures can be set, hallways can be illuminated in any color to match any theme, and some guestrooms feature “wallpaper TVs … as thick as two credit cards together … (that) literally look like a piece of glass on the wall,” Vallejos said.

“The hotel is touching on a lot of senses when it comes to tech features,” she said, noting these “help us stand apart” from the competition.

The PoE technology has surprised even the hotel’s owner, Sinclair Holdings’ Farukh Aslam, with how more efficient it is, according to Vallejos.

“One lesson learned is: Don’t sign a contract (with the electric company) for minimum energy consumption,” she said, noting that the hotel has to pay a fine because it doesn’t even meet the lowest threshold for consumption.

“Essentially, we’re paying for energy that’s not being consumed,” she said. “Hindsight is 20/20. We’re definitely growing and learning as we do this.”

Those lessons are likely to benefit not just the ownership group, which currently has two other hotels and is looking to develop more, but also the wider, global development community, Vallejos said.

“The things we’re doing here are being noticed in a big way by developers and architects all over. We’re not just putting tech in our hotels; we’re changing the way buildings are being built. Once the world sees how efficient this is, it will follow,” she said.

A better solution
Aslam, who has an engineering background, discovered PoE after hiring a vendor to install a new lighting system at one of his other hotels and being disappointed with the results, according to Vallejos.

He wanted the new lighting system to be able to set moods, with options for dimming and changing colors.

“After the install, it didn’t work as he would have liked. There was a lot of pointing fingers from one vendor to the next over why it wasn’t working, and the owner ended up having to pay the cost of all these failures that had come upon him,” Vallejos said.

This experience motivated Aslam to find a better solution, for which he traveled all over the world to research. He brought that insight back to his ownership group’s research lab, and with partners in the tech sector developed products over a period of four years.

The ownership group purchased The Sinclair building, built in 1930 as office space, and started construction in September 2017 to convert it to the high-tech hotel it is today. The investment in the property was “upwards of $50 million,” according to Sinclair Holdings.

The development faced many of the challenges inherent with working with an iconic, historic building.

“There were many things we could not change,” Vallejos said, noting that much of the architecture is preserved, including the original marble, doors and staircases.

“The building itself is exquisite,” she said. “But the things we could change, we did.”

Way of the future
The Sinclair has been a bit of a test lab for its engineering-minded owner, Vallejos said.

“We had to stop him at one point and say, ‘OK, we have to open the hotel now,’” she said.

She noted that Aslam has many more ideas, which likely will find their way into his next hotel project, but for now, the focus is The Sinclair.

“This is his baby,” she said. “He’s thinking of solar panels in the future to be able to house some of the power, and make it more environmentally friendly—ideas not implemented in this building.”

The Sinclair has been a learning environment also for its staff, which has been trained to troubleshoot the technology.

“We don’t have to have electricians come in; we don’t have any live wire,” Vallejos said. “It’s been a great learning experience for me and my team. We believe this is going to be the way of the future, and are excited to be the first to get our hands on it.”

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