Lighting sensors switch focus from savings to guest comfort


Energy is still the second-largest cost hotels have to contend with, right behind the cost of labor. Hotels are combating climbing utilities costs with ever-more-advanced energy controls, all of them chasing savings.

According to Jon Moeller, CEO of energy-management software developer Mach Energy, a poll distributed to hotel operators found that while 60 percent of operators said they had sustainability programs in place, nearly 20 percent didn’t know the results of these programs or their savings. Without understanding how much energy or money they are saving in concrete terms, Moeller said these hotels are doomed to continually reinvest and not solve any of their problems.

“Looking at your energy bill is not a sustainability program,” Moeller said. “It’s better than nothing, but there are a lot more granular things [hotels] can do.”

Moeller said that today’s technology allows for better access to the analytics behind energy-saving solutions, such as LED lights. In years past, hotels invested in automated switches in public areas and guestrooms to turn off incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs, which carried a heavy electricity load, but modern LEDs have made these switches largely unnecessary.

“Some hotels are seeing an 80-percent pickup in lighting costs just from migrating their bulbs to LEDs,” said Tom Woodruff, GM of Inncom by Honeywell, a developer of energy-management solutions. 

However, lighting sensors haven’t disappeared from hotels, but their purpose has been altered from saving energy to enhancing the guest experience through ambiance and mood. One example Woodruff used is the installation of a light sensor at the guestroom entrance that activates as guests enter the foyer.

Honeywell Sensor

“A great dissatisfier for guests is when they walk into the guestroom and can’t fight the light switch,” Woodruff said. “Having it come on automatically is sometimes a relief, and in some cases holding open a door as you walk into a dark room with luggage can be a safety concern.”

One internationally popular alternative to this is installing activation key slots at the entrance of guestrooms. In hotels with this functionality, keycards must be plugged in at the guestroom entrance to provide power to the room. It’s a concept that some disdain, but Michael Moros, GM of the Alexander, A Dolce Hotel in Indianapolis, says it has contributed to the hotel’s LEED silver status.

“It controls for when guests leave the lights, TV or room temperature running out of control when the room is vacated,” Moros said. He admitted that the hotel is fortunate enough to be a new-build, and that retrofitting a guestroom to accommodate keycard activation slots may be more trouble than it is worth. But, he said, there is more his hotel can do to save electricity.

“LED lights are gigantic for savings, and the canned lights the property came with are some of the things we still have to remove,” Moros said. “Even more important is guest training. We give them a speech at check-in. Millennials get it; other folks take a little more effort. You may get some comments, but we haven’t had any check-outs over it!”