Connectivity helps hotels manage energy use

Connectivity is at the forefront of many technologies these days and with good reason. Artificial intelligence can greatly help hotels manage their energy costs by automating tasks that traditionally were performed by property staff. For example, energy-management thermostats automatically set temperatures back in unoccupied rooms to save energy. They also use machine learning to understand how quickly a guestroom can be heated or cooled at any given time in order to recover to the guest’s preferred temperature in a predetermined amount of time, said John Attala, marketing director at Verdant Environmental Technologies.

Integrated connectivity will continue to evolve and will allow hotels to manage energy costs more precisely with greater ease and convenience than ever, said TJ Wheeler, VP of marketing and product management at Friedrich Air Conditioning. “However, guest expectations may well play into this as well,” he said. “As guests become accustomed to smart devices in their own homes, they may expect to be able to control room temperature, TVs, lights and more through a smart device or app.”

Energy-management technologies can reduce hotel energy consumption 25 percent to 35 percent by automatically responding to guestroom occupancy patterns and adjusting the thermostat to conserve energy for heating and cooling needs when a guest is not in the room, which, according to industry statistics, is about 50 percent of the time in most hotels.

Companies are making significant efforts to improve building automation and control systems to optimize performance as well as increase guest comfort, said Ryan Gardner, product marketing manager for Honeywell/Inncom. However, it is important to keep in mind that as Internet of Things systems proliferate in hospitality and the number of property sensor networks increase, the complexity of managing these systems will also increase.

“Gone are the days when a straightforward mechanical fix was all that was needed to solve an efficiency or comfort issue,” he said. “For this reason, Honeywell is working on making the management of these complex systems easier for property staff using IoT. For too long, technology vendors have focused on providing advanced technology offerings, but have not made these systems easy to manage, or even to be self-managed.”

Photo from Friedrich Air Conditioning.

Gardner said utilizing systems that provide predicative analytics will help hoteliers identify when the system is not performing optimally. The best systems monitor real-time savings and offer insights on how an inefficient system can get back on track. Deploying products that retain their device configuration, even after a device has been damaged or failed, simplifies replacement and repair and minimizes room down time, he continued.

The rise of Amazon Echo, Google Home and other devices can greatly help hoteliers because they eventually will allow guests to control all the devices in their room via voice command, Attala said. “Verdant is currently testing technology to allow guests to adjust the temperature in the room without getting out of bed.  Guests will also eventually be able to order roomservice without having to pick up the phone,” he said.

The ability to include a developed application programming interface into the guest loyalty app gives the hotelier the ability to integrate mobile key, temperature control, lighting control and other control features tied to the guest preferences or patterns, said Chad Burow, director of sales at Telkonet.

“In other words, when the room recognizes my mobile key, the room can automatically set preferred temperature, lights on or shades open, and the TV on with a welcome message to me personally,” he said. “Combine this with a geofencing component and the room will not only revert to a unoccupied status with lights off, temperature set-back, but start reverting back to occupied when I am back in range.”

How to market your green attributes

Photo from Honeywell/Inncom.

Sometimes the pursuit of efficiency gives hoteliers and technology vendors a black eye if they give the illusion that these solutions sacrifice guest comfort for profits. “Nothing could be further from the truth when hoteliers deploy systems and technologies,” Gardner said. “It can be easy to forget that the focus of hospitality is on the guest.”  

Many guests are concerned with energy usage and the impact that energy consumption has on the environment so being at the forefront in terms of reducing energy usage is always a good thing, Wheeler said. “Part of that is perception—that the hotel property is a good corporate citizen but also that it shows responsibility in the use of resources,” he said. “The best solutions will balance reduced energy consumption with optimum comfort and convenience for the guest.”

More and more guests are sustainability focused consumers, Burow said. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification is one of many ways to market a sustainable property, he continued. “A hotel’s loyalty app is also a great place to put the power of sustainability into the guests' hands with proper marketing,” Burrows said.
Hotels should make sure that their websites prominently feature their green initiatives so that guests who are interested in making a reservation can immediately find this information, Attala said.

“Guests are increasingly conscious of how energy waste contributes to climate change and want to make sure that they reward hotels and organizations that are focused on environmental sustainability,” he said.

Beyond the guestroom: Where to save on energy costs

Common areas are often forgotten as a source of potential energy savings. Hallways, ballrooms, gyms, spas and pools are all areas where hotels can reduce energy consumption. Meeting rooms are prime candidates for energy savings because they generally have larger surface areas than guestrooms and are used intermittently, Attala said.

“Similar to guestrooms, energy-management thermostats can set back temperatures and decrease [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] runtimes when the meeting room(s) are not in use,” he said.

Burow believes common spaces like ballrooms can benefit by utilizing intelligent plug loads and switches. The same can be said for office spaces, kitchens and other back-of-house spaces.

More than 50 percent of the hotel’s square footage is typically outside of the guestrooms. One of the easiest ways to conserve energy in common areas and reduce peak demand is with more efficient lighting and pumps, Gardner said. By using a building-management system tailored for the common areas that integrates with other energy-consuming items like kitchen equipment also is helpful.

Packaged terminal air conditioner units can be used in hallways and combined with energy-management thermostats to be controlled via a building-management system to adjust the temperature to reduce energy usage during off-peak hours, said Wheeler.

“Zone cooling and heating systems are ideal for gyms and common areas that are extremely busy in the morning and evening hours but see a reduced number and frequency of guests during the daytime,” he said. “They operate quietly and can be part of a multizone system where each unit can be independently controlled. They are also very efficient in both cooling and heating mode.”

The kitchen can be a big energy-wasting area in a hotel. With the big commercial appliances working continuously to prepare breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner for hundreds of guests on a daily basis, the final electricity bill can be quite discouraging.

The first step is to look for, and introduce, energy-efficient appliances boasting an Energy Star label that signifies decreased energy and water consumption. Additionally, these appliances should boast programmable software to improve their use and conserve more resources.