Smart solutions make energy management easier

Most energy management companies are preparing for the connected guestrooms of the future. Photo credit: Friedrich Air Conditioning

At many hotels, energy management was (and still is, in some cases,) a task reserved for housekeepers, who are charged with turning the thermostat down when the room is empty or unrented. But today’s newest energy-management systems use occupancy sensors and sophisticated software to detect guestroom occupancy and set the temperature back in empty rooms, completely automating the task, said John Attala, marketing director at Verdant Environmental Technologies. 

“Many of these solutions are completely plug-and-play wireless solutions that can be self-installed in just minutes per room without professional installers or costly renovations, not to mention the opportunity cost of having to leave rooms unrented,” he said.

With smart solutions, there is better occupancy detection and reduced dependency on motion-based sensors, which can fail at night when there is little or no movement, said Jerad Adams, Friedrich Air Conditioning director of commercial product management. “This increases guest comfort and maximizes the energy-saving capabilities of the system,” he said.

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The better the system, the better the overall energy savings. This enables full lighting, heating and cooling controls, as well as ventilation control capabilities.  “Curtailing these electrical requirements greatly reduces the energy consumption in unoccupied rooms, providing considerable utility savings and prolonging the life of the equipment in the room,” Adams said.

One of the most overlooked components of energy management is the deployment process, said Chad Burow, director of sales and marketing at Telkonet. Budget constraints can prevent a hotel from making the investment in the technology. “We have invested in providing customers an easier deployment path both financially in terms of cost and ease of deployment by removing the hurdles with easier-to-install equipment,” he said.

 Many energy-management systems provide the open data exchange platform for Internet of Things integration. Photo credit: Inncom by Honeywell

In addition, mobile apps are allowing guests to control energy management in other, complementary ways, said Grant Patterson, product marketing manager for Honeywell | Environmental and Energy Solutions. “Reward members are getting rewarded for not having rooms serviced and not having towels and bed sheets replaced daily,” he said. “These simple tasks are helping hotels and guests reduce their carbon footprint—and guests feel good about that.”

Voice-recognition technology like Alexa has undeniable potential for simplifying and enhancing the guest experience, Attala said. “Guests no longer need to call the front desk or even pull out their smartphones to get a fresh set of towels or get walking directions to a nearby business meeting,” he said.

Many companies have incorporated new technology in thermostats for compatibility with connected-room and voice-activation technologies that are being adopted by major hotel brands.  

While the technology is still in its infancy, Patterson is confident that the voice-recognition technology will cross over into being a guestroom standard.

“Hotels like to make their guestrooms feel more like home so that’s why they are adding them,” he said. “It will consolidate the number of devices and switches in a room, which can be a good thing, while giving guests their own personalized butler.”

When implementing a whole hotel EMS, consider these 6 things

When implementing a whole hotel energy-management system, we asked the experts what hoteliers should consider before making the leap. The biggest things hotels should contemplate are:

1. What’s the end goal?

“Hotels should really know what they are trying to achieve with an EMS,” Patterson said. Are they trying to make money? Increase guest comfort? Increase revenue? Different functions within the hotel get remunerations for different reasons and management needs to understand that, he said. That will determine the best product for that hotel.

2. How will the EMS impact the guest experience?

“A good energy-management system should save a hotel plenty of energy with very little attention needed from staff and be virtually unnoticeable to guests, especially while they are asleep,” said Attala.

3. Is the EMS system scalable? How many integrations will it accommodate?

“The most common integrations are door locks, PMSes, voice-control systems, digital content providers, lighting and shades,” Burow said.

4. What is the total energy savings?

This includes the complete return on investment, Adams said. Hotels should consider the installed cost, monthly energy calculated savings, as well as overall operating and maintenance costs. “Not all EMS systems are created equal and we encourage a thorough evaluation of the system prior to making a purchase decision to ensure your requirements are being met and the return is satisfactory,” he continued.  

Before implementing an EMS, a hotel should ask for a cost-savings analysis that projects the ROI for the system, Attala said. “They should also give strong consideration to proceeding in states with rebates available, which can further improve the payback period,” he said.

5. What are the full capabilities of the EMS?

Hotels need to understand the full capabilities of its EMS, Patterson said. Often hotels don’t realize there is more to the EMS that they aren’t using and can benefit from.

6. What type of customer support is available? How well will you be supported post sale? 

Setting up an EMS can be tedious and technical difficulties can be cumbersome to resolve, Adams said. “We advise our customers to make sure they are partnering with a solution, not just buying a system,” he said.

Burow suggested that hoteliers should find out if they will have a dedicated support tech available. “Can I expect to have proactive monitoring services to alert me if there is an issue with my system?” he said.

How to heat and cool a treehouse hotel

A few years ago, Andrew Alms became interested in treehouse hotels after learning about their popularity in the Pacific Northwest. His business partner, Enoch Elwell, had experienced them in Atlanta. Alms and Elwell thought Chattanooga, Tenn., seemed like a great place for one.

A ductless split heating and cooling system lets Treetop Hideaways hotel guests be comfortable while they are in the treehouse. Photo credit: Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating

“Chattanooga is green and creative, but there’s been an exodus away from traditional camping because of its lack of basic amenities and comforts,” Alms said. “People definitely feel a desire to be in this type of environment—to be outdoors and in an imaginative space—but they still want to be comfortable.”

With Living Building Challenge certification in mind, the project team constructed the treehouse between two trees: a sweetgum and red oak, both 24 inches in diameter.

“It’s one thing to build a treehouse,” said Michael Walton, executive director of green|spaces and architect of the project. “It’s another to build a high-performance, comfortable-in-any-season treehouse that people are willing to spend a significant amount of money to stay in. So we insulated and sealed the walls and used a lot of salvaged building materials to create the authentic treehouse aesthetic.” Alms explained: “We wanted to inspire people.”

The only missing piece: thermal comfort. “We put in a window unit for [air conditioning] but it just wasn’t cutting it. We tried it for six months, but the unit couldn’t pump out enough air,” Alms said.

According to the project team, the Treetop Hideaways needed an HVAC system that would provide some of the creature comforts expected in any hotel, while still giving guests a semblance of camping, and the Mitsubishi Electric Inverter technology was a great fit.

The technology uses only the necessary capacity to provide comfort, but still performs incredibly well during extreme weather conditions, which are common in mountainous climates like the Chattanooga area. “Additionally, the units take up minimal space and operate quietly,” Alms said. “Guests come to these unique accommodations to be within nature, and we didn’t want the HVAC system to distract from that ambience. The Inverter system provided a solution to space, climate, noise and efficiency concerns.”

 “Split-ductless would let their clientele be comfortable while in the treehouse,” said Kim Ray, VP of Conditionaire. “The inverter technology—it’s a real benefit. You’re only using the capacity you need. Plus these systems are good during weather extremes, especially with hyper-heat, which eliminates the need for any supplemental heating, which heats at full capacity down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Ray recommends Zoned Comfort Solutions from Mitsubishi Electric because “they’ve been around a long time and are on the cutting edge of technology.”

“The system turned out great—functionally and aesthetically,” Alms said. “The controller is designed well, which makes it easy to explain to guests how to use. The whole thing is fully programmable; we leave this up to guests so they can be comfortable. We’ve heard no complaints. You know what they say: No news is good news. And we’ve had some days over 100 degrees. The system has been flawless in keeping up. It cools the place down and gets a nice air flow around the space.”

Alms and Elwell are looking ahead to next steps. One is to formally earn LBC certification for the treehouse. The other is to go from one treehouse to multiple treehouses – at least eight over the next few years. This will create a hotel with a variety of rooms to stay in—all of them above the ground.