There is a tremendous opportunity to conserve energy and save money through the use of smart-grid technology, but not many in the United States appear to be exploring that as an option.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—With energy costs expected to quadruple by 2030, investing in cost-saving opportunities now could be advantageous for hoteliers in the long run.
Sean O’Kane, director for strategic hotel alliances at energy-management specialist Schneider Electric, said automation is an option hoteliers might want to consider.
“There are a lot of perceptions that you can … disrupt guest comfort when you automate systems,” he said. However, automating energy control throughout the building can be done so it is seamless to the guest.
In a typical hotel frequented by business travelers, that guest is not in the room close to 65% to 70% of the time it is rented, O’Kane said. “You have a tremendous amount of opportunity in that room.”
If those guests leave their heating or air conditioner set to a high temperature while they are gone, hotels rely on the housekeeping staff to control it. Intelligent thermostats can now use occupancy sensing to determine whether someone is in the room and set itself to a range of temperature set by the hotel. The minute the guest walks back in, the setting goes back to where the guest left it.
One of the advantages of automation is each guestroom can be managed individually by hotel staff at the front desk depending on its circumstances, O’Kane said. Rooms facing the sun could be set to lower temperatures, while rooms in the shade could be set to higher temperatures.
An added benefit is automation can be done wirelessly. “There’s no need to go behind the wall or for any structural damage to be done,” he said.
Before deciding the correct energy conservation method for a hotel, monitoring consumption is crucial, according to O’Kane. “If you don’t monitor, you cannot possibly get a handle around the energy consumption.”
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, for example, is going through all of its hotels in the U.S. and doing energy-consumption audits. “It’s not the most comprehensive, but it’s affordable and will give hotels the biggest ideas of where their opportunities can be,” O’Kane said.
Starwood is not focused on monetary savings but more on energy consumption, he said. “They are making a very strong statement about reducing consumption.”
Smart grid costly
Connecting to a smart grid is one of the options that could better manage energy consumption in buildings, but not many in the United States appear to be exploring that as an option, according to sources.
Most buildings are not equipped to integrate with a smart grid, and there also exists a lack of awareness and education among building owners, Darlene Pope, president and CEO of CoR Advisors, said during a webinar hosted earlier this year by her company titled “Smart Buildings and the Smart Grid.”
And a survey conducted by CoR Advisors and the Continental Automated Buildings Association, which represents 12,000 non-residential buildings in the U.S, found approximately 76% of respondents said they do not plan to upgrade their buildings’ energy management systems for the purpose of integrating with a smart grid within the next 18 months.
There is a tremendous opportunity to conserve energy and save money through the use of smart-grid technology, Pope said during the webinar.
“Simply stated, smart-grid technologies allow a bi-directional flow of information between end users and the electric utility. The move to a smart grid means building out capacity to the electrical grid to handle today’s energy demands and added loads,” Phil Davis, senior manager of smart grid and demand response solutions for Schneider Electric, said in an email.
The electric grid always has been smart, Davis said, but to a large extent is blind. Traditionally, grid operators have no visibility about actual performance at points on the grid, even to the extent they do not know there is a power outage until phone calls come in, he said.
With the innovation of smart grids, this is changing.
Hotels that leverage a smart grid can take advantage of demand response programs, Davis said. Demand response has evolved from a reliability tool used in peak emergencies to a solution for managing energy use and reducing energy costs. By participating in demand response programs, hotels can reduce the stress of new demands on the grid, such as guests’ electric vehicles.
Although there are significant benefits to utilizing smart-grid technology, the initial investment can be off-putting to some hoteliers as there is a chance they might not see the return for several years.