Start Saving Energy - No Reservations about Energy Management (3 of 4)

Feb. 27, 2003
Checking out conservation strategies in the hospitality industry
Small actions result in big savings when you're talking about energy management in the hospitality industry. The 24/7 nature of hotel and lodging operations can escalate energy usage from sensible to shocking if energy management practices are not developed and implemented. "I'd say that maybe 10 percent of the hotels out there have a good, solid energy management program," says Phil Sprague, president, PSA Energy Consultants, Mound, MN. If Sprague's estimates are correct, simple math shows that nearly 52,000* lodging establishments in America are not reaping the benefits of efficient products, systems, and procedures - actions that can save hoteliers upwards of 20 to 40 percent in operating costs.

Those in the hospitality industry implementing smart strategies to save energy will be the first to validate the worth of these programs. "It's just a day-to-day thing here. We have a mantra, 'energy management is good business' all the time - period," says John L. Lembo, director of energy, North American Hotel Operations, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., White Plains, NY.

No effective energy management plan can begin until a thorough analysis of energy usage has been conducted. A daily record of energy use and hotel activities will help you arrive at this point. According to the Washington, D.C.-based American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), it is important to record the following each day: a reading of electric, gas, and water meters; occupancy and count of guests; meal covers; weather conditions; laundry usage; and estimated usage and hours of operation for exercise equipment. Analyze the findings by cross-referencing the data with the monthly statement received from utilities.

An analysis can become the springboard for discussion with representatives from your local utilities. "I'll bet you that more than half of the hotels in America are on the wrong utility rate," Sprague says. With almost 30 years of experience advising the hospitality industry in ways to reduce energy, Sprague suggests that, when possible, hotels should be on the time-of-day rate because about 65 to 70 percent of energy consumed in hotels is during off-peak periods. "By simply asking your utility to change your rate, you can save three to five percent on energy costs," he adds.

Implementing an effective energy management program might take time and effort but it doesn't have to take a huge budget. "As far as best practices are concerned, there are a thousand things that one can look into to save money that make sense and are generally not realized because they are so simple," explains Edwin Figueroa, director, engineering operations, Hilton Hotels Corp., Beverly Hills. Setting thermostats to cool to 85 degrees F. in unoccupied rooms, renting guestrooms affected by climate (top floor, end of corridors, facing west or facing east) only as necessary, and cleaning or replacing HVAC filters are just a few suggestions from the AH&LA's Energy Management and Conservation Guide. "Operations and maintenance is a key factor in any hotel energy conservation program," Sprague adds.

One initiative in the four-part energy management plan implemented by Hilton Hotels Corp. specifically seeks out these types of best practices, posting them on the company Intranet to share. "Believe it or not, our team members were the ones that came up with the greatest majority of these suggestions. And when we implemented them in our first year, we found that just on best practices alone, we were able to reduce as a company (in the managed and owned brand) approximately five percent in savings - just on common sense items," says Figueroa about changes in lighting, guestroom temperature, and food preparation.
SOURCE: AMERICAN HOTEL & LODGING ASSOCIATIONIf housekeeping services turn on fewer lights while cleaning, savings are imminent. However, if the lights they turn on are incandescent lamps, the potential to increase these savings is vast. "If you replace a 100-watt [incandescent] light with an 18-watt or 23-watt compact fluorescent, you've reduced energy consumption by 50 percent - multiply that by an average of about 10 lights in a guestroom, multiplied by over 1,000 guestrooms, [and] a good retrofit program saves a huge amount of energy," Figueroa explains.

Lighting retrofits are just one way that energy consumption is reduced without compromising the quality of the product. "Energy management can and should be invisible to the guest," says Sprague. Other products worthy of investigation and possible investment include: low-flow showerheads, energy-efficient chillers, reflective window film, exit sign retrofit kits, and variable frequency drives on pump motor controllers. Check with your utilities about the availability of rebates to offset the expense of new equipment.

Computerized energy management (EMS) and building automation systems can regulate lighting and HVAC controls, as well as help with load-shedding and equipment cycling. According to the AH&LA's Guide, these systems (with proper installation) will result in optimistic savings of 20 to 25 percent.

To combat wasteful guests, guestroom controls that utilize infrared, sound, or ultrasonic occupancy sensors can reduce wasted energy from lighting in unoccupied rooms.

While most energy management strategies can result in a three-year or less payback, investments in alternative energy sources provide a much longer return on investment (sometimes 10 to 15 years). However, funding from utilities and state or local agencies can minimize the costs substantially. "We're putting two fuel cells [in hotels] in the state of New Jersey. We received $1.6 million from the New Jersey Clean Energy Fund for these units. Now we're going to get some additional energy efficiency [and] we're going to be to 'clean and green,'" says Lembo.

Cogeneration, or combined heat and power as it's often called, is another means to reduce peak-load demand rates. "It's a much more efficient way of generating power because you are using waste heat," Lembo explains. As noted by AH&LA, another advantage of cogeneration is the increased reliability of your energy supply.

If the idea of implementing a program seems daunting, remember the following of Sprague's comments: "The real bottom line is there is no logical reason why any hotelier can't implement one of these programs - it's just bad business judgment [if they don't]."

Start with an energy audit. An independent company or consultant can look at your facility's historic energy profile, diagnose effective energy conservation methods, and recommend changes to systems and procedures.

Make sure your consumption and goals are measurable. "Energy accounting is the foundation of any energy program," Sprague advises.

Educate yourself. Contact associations such as the AH&LA, use the Internet, learn how to read your monthly utility statements, and find out about rebate opportunities.

Scrutinize operations. Evaluate all processes from food preparation to laundry services and ask your team to provide suggestions for improvement.

Invest appropriate capital. When building products and systems need upgrading, align capital to deliver energy-efficient alternatives.

Whether you own or manage one hotel or an entire portfolio, the quest for energy management must be ongoing. Says Figueroa, "You can always do better - as long as you stay in pursuit."

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