Why energy management remains relevant when guest experience is king

by FM Media
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More travellers are looking for sustainability credentials when they book their hotel accommodation. TripAdvisor’s global travellers survey, TripBarometer, reveals that 79 percent of travellers place importance on properties implementing eco-friendly practices1.

Once they arrive, however, guests’ comfort is a top priority for hotel operators, especially for ensuring repeat visits. On average, guests remain outside of their rooms for long durations. When comfort parameters are not adjusted during these periods, considerable amounts of energy are wasted.

Guest room energy consumption accounts for between 40 and 80 percent of energy use within the hospitality industry, which could be as much as 80 kilowatts of energy per room per day for a luxury guestroom.

Joe Essex HR 350x500

Schneider Electric’s Joe Essex

For facility managers, the challenge is that hotel guests and staff don’t have visibility to nor are they directly accountable for a hotel’s overall utility bill, beyond the standard environmental appeal on the bathroom wall. Consumer scepticism to green washing is understandable from this perspective.

The energy cost in hotels typically is three to six percent of overall operational cost and therefore often dismissed as too insignificant to bother with; however, this does represent a substantial proportion of controllable cost – second only to labour costs. Industry statistics show a 10 percent reduction in energy consumption would have the same financial effect as increasing the average daily room rate by US$0.62 in limited-service hotels and by US$1.35 in full service hotels2.

So how can hotel facility managers approach room energy management to accommodate both guest comfort and energy efficiency?

Energy management simplification

Imagine a hotel where staff members have quick and easy access to screens that enable them to control and monitor energy consumption in rooms, responding to whether the rooms are occupied, rented but not occupied, or not rented.

From an energy and comfort perspective, all of these categories of rooms need to be managed differently. Sensors within the rooms gather an abundance of comfort, safety and energy consumption data, while building analytics software converts that data into actionable intelligence that improves the energy efficiency performance of the hotel and boosts the satisfaction of the guests.

The smart algorithms identify problem conditions or opportunities with main plant and in the various rooms, and then offer suggested proposals and actions to address the situation. This type of automated fault detection and diagnostics is captured in the cloud – where it’s analysed by qualified experts.

The reports generated from this data, in addition to identifying equipment and system faults, identify a prioritised sequence of operational improvements, and energy usage trends.

To get to this point of integration hotel operators will need to familiarise themselves with the various approaches available and ascertain which scenario makes the most sense in order to address both immediate and long-term hotel energy management needs.

Guestroom energy management systems utilise sensors and controls to adjust heat, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC), lighting and other environmental factors in rooms, based on whether or not the room is occupied. These systems are deployed in different ways, including:

Keycard-holder system: utilising this system, when a guest enters their room, they place their card in a special holder that activates the room HVAC and lighting settings. This system has a weakness, however, because it can affect the guest comfort.

Enhanced guest presence detection: many hotel operators use a guest presence detection system based on a combination of movement detection and door status. This approach has several benefits: it is seamless to the guest, it cannot be bypassed and it is compatible with new access control devices.

As these systems continue to evolve, advanced presence detection approaches are now merging with the concept of ‘target’ temperature settings to manage activation of heating and cooling systems in guestrooms. These settings allow the room temperature to fluctuate up or down a predetermined temperature range.

Hotel operator-selected variances, setback and deep setback settings: these help to keep the room at desired temperature ranges throughout various room status scenarios.

The purpose of these variable fluctuations is to ensure that the target temperature is maintained for guest comfort, while eliminating unnecessary ‘vacant energy expense’ while guests are out of the room. When a guest re-enters, temperatures return to the guest’s preferred setting, with the ability to make manual adjustments.

When the energy management system determines a room is unoccupied, it sends a signal to each light switch and turns off any light that is left on. Similar to the heating and cooling settings, a time delay can be programmed to system operator preference.

As soon as the door opens again, guests can be greeted by warm courtesy lighting. Rules can also be set to not activate courtesy lighting during daylight hours when natural light is sufficient, thus maximising the energy savings potential. Systems can also include sensors for open windows to ensure that the heating or cooling is stopped while the window is open, so that less energy is wasted.

The standalone system

The most basic energy management approach is to deploy room controls as a stand-alone system, using presence detection sensors and door/window contact sensors.

Temperature is relegated to a setback position when the room is unoccupied and deep setback after a predefined unoccupied period. Electrical circuits are turned off when the system detects that the room is empty (except for some outlets that can remain active to enable guests to recharge laptops and devices at any time they wish), and turned back on when guests return.

In a stand-alone system, devices exchange information inside the room, but are not connected to other systems outside the room. Even this basic approach yields strong ROI.

The ROI of networking

While stand-alone solutions pay for themselves, much greater savings can be achieved when the guestroom systems are networked and integrated with the hotel’s building management system (BMS) and property management system (PMS).

The use of open standards allows both BMS and room controls to be integrated with a facility’s front desk and PMS. This provides hotels with centralised control of room comfort and promotes a building-wide approach to managing energy and guestroom comfort.

Importantly, many controllers offer wireless communications capability, making them easy and non-disruptive to install in existing buildings.

Networking and integration provide significant benefits, the most important of which are:

The ability to go into deep setback mode when a room is unrented – rented but unoccupied rooms can be set to adjust temperatures to save money, but this saving is limited because temperatures must be maintained within a certain range to ensure guest comfort.

With networking and centralised control, however, a hotel can easily adjust unrented rooms to deep setback or, in some cases, temporarily shut down rooms to eliminate unnecessary expense. Deep setback permits increased energy efficiency by reducing the set point in heating and cooling seasons.

[quote style=’1′ cite=”]Guest room energy consumption accounts for between 40 and 80 percent of energy use within the hospitality industry.[/quote]

The ability to fine-tune these settings can significantly impact ROI and reduce the initial payback period. Since most hotels operate at a 70 to 80 percent occupancy rate, this means that 20 to 30 percent of rooms could be in deep setback at any given time. A hotel could therefore expect to reduce overall HVAC costs by many percentage points – potentially as much as 20 percent or more, depending on factors such as local climate and the type of building.

Increased guest comfort for increased revenue – guest comfort is always the number one priority and directly affects hotel profitability.

Networked controllers improve guest comfort by:

  • enabling the BMS to send an alarm if a room is out of a certain threshold when rented, allowing preventive maintenance before the guest complains
  • providing the ability to change room parameters remotely to accommodate a guest or tweak a room that has been troublesome
  • pre-cooling or pre-heating rooms that have just been rented to the occupied set point – instead of waiting until the guest enters the room
  • greeting the guest in his/her own language on the thermostat (when integrated with the PMS), and
  • identifying when a hotel room or window has been left open for a long period of time, especially in rented but unoccupied rooms, so maintenance personnel can be dispatched to check up on things.

Together, these capabilities can significantly impact guest comfort and provide a more positive hotel experience.

Decreased maintenance costs – typically, traditional maintenance practices don’t leave facility managers the time they need to optimise the hotel facility. Time is spent on manual checks of equipment or reviewing data, historical trends or alarm logs to identify issues or opportunities. Or worse, a reactive mode is in operation, repairing equipment when it breaks or as a response to guest complaints. Networking guestroom controllers combined with powerful analytics provides an opportunity to cost-effectively implement a predictive maintenance approach. Analytics uses automated fault detection and diagnostics to highlight those issues and opportunities most impacting building performance in terms of energy waste, comfort conditions and operational impact.

With this information available to them, facility managers and their contractors can act immediately on high priority issues, and direct maintenance activity to address the most impactful issues or opportunities. Using data analytics can be compared to an engineer reviewing every piece of equipment 24/7, looking for inefficiencies or opportunities for improvement.

Information is available to calculate an ROI for fault rectification or sustainability improvements. Issues can be addressed before building occupants are even aware they exist, resulting in lesser impact on the guest experience.

ROI elements to consider

The ROI of a hotel management system is affected by a number of key drivers. Understanding these drivers can help to maximise energy efficiency benefits derived from improvements and help to assure rapid payback periods.

The key drivers to consider include: installation costs, management strategy, individual room efficiency, property size, location, demographics, incentives and funding.

Ultimately any investment, green or not, needs to make good business sense. To be successful in achieving the projected ROI, guests and staff are more likely to engage and cooperate with the hotel brand if they know that they are doing their part to ensure a healthier world environment.

The author, Joe Essex, is business technology adviser in hotels and entertainment at Schneider Electric Australia.

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