How to take control of your hotel's energy spending

If your hotel takes sustainability seriously, going green could also lead to a better bottom line in addition to a healthier planet. One of the core tenets of sustainable hotel operations is the need to control energy use—something that modern technology can actively assist with.

Wayne Souza, director of engineering at the Montage Deer Valley resort in Park City, Utah, said energy controls and sensors in guestrooms and public spaces are necessary for any hotel that wants to cut into its utilities bills, let alone achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. Souza’s property makes use of guestroom sensors from Control4, which allows the property to detect when guests are present or on property, automatically adjusting the guestroom environment and taking the human element out of the equation.

“Without these controls, there are some things you just can’t do,” Souza said. “With our controls, we turn off all of our [unoccupied] guestroom lights twice a day, once at 9 a.m. and again at midnight. We also use them to lock the rooms’ thermostats when unoccupied.”

Souza said the hotel’s patio doors also are affixed with switches to detect when a guest is outside, shutting off the room’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system five minutes after detection.

Controlling for situations such as these are critical in some environments, such as that of Yountville, Calif., home to the Bardessono Hotel & Spa, one of the most sustainable hotels in the world.

Guestroom energy controls are effective for adapting to guest behavior, such as leaving a balcony door open. Photo credit: Montage Deer Valley

Bardessono’s VP of operations, Sileshi Mengiste, said the hotel makes religious use of sensors in tandem with a number of other innovations such as aluminum shutters designed to protect from or contain heat in guestrooms as needed. Mengiste said that the average hotel doesn’t need to go to the same lengths as Bardessono in order to realize savings—the hotel has its own geothermal energy system that allows it to run completely off the grid—but with some creative applications, it's possible to make a noticeable dent in utilities costs.

“You can imagine that in summer, when it is 100 degrees outside, to get a room to 62 or 63 degrees takes a lot of energy, and if that room is unoccupied all of that energy is wasted,” Mengiste said.

He recommended a system that allows for setbacks that override guest settings. A hotel might not make use of these systems very often while guests are on property, but if they leave for the day or check out, an electronic system can help set a guestroom to any desired temperature in minutes.

According to Ron McGill, director of engineering at the Grand Hyatt New York, guests tend not to turn off their thermostats before they leave, and automated systems are able to cover for your hotel in this event.

“Guests can be outside of their room sometimes 12 hours a day, if not more, and if their heat or air isn’t on and the lights are off, that translates into direct energy savings,” McGill said. “Finding the right setback for these situations is important. If the setback is too extreme, the guest may return to a room that is uncomfortably hot or cold, and you will then spend more energy getting the room to the desired temperature. But there is no reason to ever heat or cool a vacant room.”

Adapting your property's energy consumption for different types of events is an effective way to see real savings. Photo credit: Montage Deer Valley

Public Savings

It’s one thing to control the temperature of a hotel guestroom, but mastering the environment of public spaces and keeping them comfortable is an even greater challenge. According to McGill, one way to control public spaces is to program around events, scheduling ideal temperatures ahead of time and adjusting as needed.

“If it’s something like a meeting, it may not need so much precooling. If it’s a dance group, you may need a little extra attention there because your ballroom will be full of a lot of active people,” he said.

Mengiste suggested clearly defining the purpose of every room in your hotel, and then tweaking your property’s climate controls based on this purpose and any changes in occupancy or need. For example, the majority of Bardessono Hotel & Spa’s public areas are vacant at night, and the property has the majority of the lights in these rooms set to naturally turn off at specific times.

“You don’t need 200 light bulbs lit up all evening, so we cut their use by 75 percent,” Mengiste said. “Specific rooms are designed for specific temperatures. Everything depends on the number of people at an event, and of course hotel operators can control for that.”

Souza said that while many hotels hold preconference meetings, some engineering departments may feel they are not needed during this planning stage. By inviting those people into these discussions, the climate of the event may be under more scrutiny, and savings more concrete.

“Many hotels get caught up in what food they are serving, what entertainment is on hand, but if you already understand the patterns of your guests and where they will be, then you can control your energy output,” Souza said. “Operational tips like making sure door seals are properly fitted are also important, but understanding patterns is big. If I know I have 500 people coming into a ballroom, I don’t want to overshoot on the climate and then balance. I want to start a couple degrees from where I want it to be, and then over a period of an hour I can then balance and sustain it.”

This mentality has proven to be effective, Souza said. The only barrier is operators accepting it and remaining consistent.

“Looking at something like an office space, where you know it’s closed from 5 p.m. on Friday to 8 a.m. on Monday, programming controls there to keep from powering unoccupied spaces generates real savings,” he said. “Why not apply that to your hotel?”