How Hotels Can Tackle Their 3 Main Barriers to Deeper Energy Savings

How Hotels Can Tackle Their 3 Main Barriers to Deeper Energy Savings

Misperceptions about the most effective investments for efficiency and the potential impacts on guests have prevented hotels from reaping all the energy savings possible from today's technology.

Similar sentiments and missed opportunities for savings prevail even at some large, sophisticated properties that have earned LEED certification and set strong sustainability agendas.

Those are among the key conclusions of a study on energy efficiency and the lodging industry conducted by the Harrah College of Hotel Administration and the Cannon Survey Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Schneider Electric, which commissioned the research, released highlights of the study findings today.

"There's such a tendency to rely on attacking the low-hanging fruit through a hands-on approach, such as physically turning out lights and switching (to energy efficient) lightbulbs," said Sean O'Kane, the director of Hotel Strategic Alliances for Schneider Electric's Buildings Business. "There is a huge lack of understanding and knowledge on how to tackle energy management."

A hotelier for 24 years before joining the energy services company, O'Kane is familiar with the problem. He had his energy management epiphany almost 15 years ago while he was running a convention hotel in New Hampshire. Ever since, O'Kane said, he's been an advocate for energy monitoring and management systems that take advantage of available technology, bring automation to the process and cut out the guess work.

When he chaired a lodging industry group in New Hampshire, he'd typically tell colleagues that they could realize 25 to 30 percent greater energy savings if they would go beyond the basics of energy saving. "They tended to look at me like I had two heads," O'Kane said we when talked by phone yesterday.

Several major hotel companies -- such as Hilton, Starwood, Marriott and Hyatt -- have realized the necessity to be more aggressive about energy saving and management and have devised programs to carry initiative across portfolios.

"The flags are clearly identifying this as a challenge," O'Kane said. "This is something that they recognize as a huge opportunity, and they want to do this right."

Here are the key elements of the challenge, according to the research by UNLV:

1) Cost and Payback Concerns

It is not unusual for hotel operators to be concerned with costs since capital budgets and the economy continue to be constrained. However, hotel operators don't seem to look beyond the initial costs of energy management investments, or consider the total lifecycle costs of existing conditions and the savings that could be realized over the same period.

"Obviously, many of the respondents are not conversant in high finance," the report said. "However, this lack of understanding might serve as an educational opportunity for a supplier firm to explain all of the ramifications of certain energy system and equipment purchase decisions to the client. Encouraging the client to take a long, versus a short-term perspective is certainly a more sustainable position for all parties."

2) Energy Management Perceptions Versus Reality

"Fluorescent lighting systems, occupancy sensors, variable speed drives, lighting controls, and surge suppressors are favored over peak load shaving equipment, power factor monitoring systems, kitchen refrigeration energy control systems, benchmarking and energy data tracking systems," the report noted.

The direct relationship between the first set of controls and costs tends to be more readily recognized than the benefits that can result from automated and customizable management systems.

For example, unless confronted with a bill for a power factor surcharge, it's not likely that a hotel operator would consider investing in technology to monitor the system, the report said.

3) Fears of Compromising Guest Comfort

For hotels, this is the greatest stumbling block in advancing energy management, according to the study and O'Kane.

"Any system or program that even remotely might compromise that standard will be rejected, even if there are energy savings to be had," the study said.

The industry's commitment to guest satisfaction is essential, O'Kane acknowledged. However, the assumption that energy management solutions would impair guest comfort is untrue, he said. For example, fears about peak load shaving, which can be customized to a property's needs, are unfounded, he said. "It can be made seamless to the guests.".

Advances in submetering, wireless technology, data collection and automation systems all contribute to better and smarter buildings and energy management in hotels, O'Kane said, adding that those solutions also are transparent to guests.

The solution to the misperceptions is better education of hotel operators and managers, and vendors should shoulder the responsibility in providing it, according to the study.

"Ignorance of the benefits that can be realized from certain energy management systems ... such as the use of automatic energy tracking and benchmarking systems needs to be addressed by the supplier through use of examples, perhaps, case studies," the study said.

Schneider Electric has set up an online Energy University for companies to learn more about energy management. Access is free with registration. Marriott India is among the businesses that are using the site, O'Kane said.

Photo of hotel front desk via Shutterstock.com.

Editor's Note: Don't miss VERGE DC (March 14-16) convening senior executives and thought leaders at the intersection of technologies and services related to energy, information, buildings, and transportation.