Renewable Energy for Hotels
Many hotel owners and managers are looking for ways to make smart and practical changes to their business that will reduce emissions over time and result in greater guest comfort, cost savings, or resilience to changing weather.
Renewable energy, such as solar, biofuel and geothermal, can be a great investment with strong returns and many co-benefits. As more carbon tax regimes come into play, the cost of using fossil fuels to power or heat hotels will continue to rise.
Adding renewable energy to your portfolio of green initiatives can boost your Green Key Eco-Rating and have a big impact on reducing your greenhouse gas emissions. Let’s explore a few options for bringing more renewable energy into hotels.
Solar PV panels can supplement your energy supply for your hotel, providing a clean, renewable source of power. Solar panels can last 25-30 years and payback in 7-15 years on average, creating long term savings and a worthwhile investment.
If the electricity currently used by your hotel is carbon-intensive (generated by coal, natural gas, or other), adding solar panels can significantly reduce your carbon footprint and demonstrate your commitment to a renewable, clean energy future. If your electricity is from a low-carbon energy grid, such as British Columbia or Ontario, installing solar panels will have little impact on reducing your carbon footprint, but you will still benefit from the cost savings and additional energy supply.
Solar panels costs have reduced dramatically over the last 15 years. In North America, typical costs range between $1.50-$3.00 per watt inclusive of all install costs. Solar energy systems can often be financed, and there may be financial incentives in your region for green energy projects.
A 15 kilowatt (kW) system would cost approximately $32,500 to install and could produce an estimated 2,250 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month with at least 4-6 sun hours per day. With unknown cost of power over the next 20 years, solar energy is a great way to secure part of your power supply with zero emissions.
What about solar hot water?
Solar thermal involves more maintenance, and there are more variables at play to determine if it is a cost-effective solution. If your hotel has a large pool with nearby roof or ground area to mount panels, solar thermal is worth looking into. Pools have a constant demand for hot water, which can be supplemented with solar thermal. These systems can dramatically reduce your energy demand when designed and sized appropriately.
Image source: Moment Energy
Battery Energy Storage
Though batteries do not generate power, they can be an important component of your renewable energy system. Combine with diesel generation or intermittent renewable energy such as wind or solar to get the most out of your energy generation. These systems can also provide power through winter conditions or blackouts, making your hotel more resilient to weather events.
Moment Energy, based in Vancouver, BC, has created a more affordable battery system repurposing retired electric vehicle batteries. These battery systems, like all lithium-ion, work well in moderate weather conditions and require heating solutions in minus 40-degree Celsius weather. Moment Energy units are 2/3 the price of the alternative lithium-ion battery units and contribute to the circular economy by giving batteries a second life.1
Image source: Moment Energy
Heating and air conditioning is the #1 energy consumer in many hotels. More hotels and event centres, especially new developments, are installing geo-exchange systems as the primary heating and cooling system. Geo-exchange (or geothermal) systems take advantage of the natural thermal properties of the earth, which is a constant 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit just a few feet below the surface. Geo-exchange systems include ground loops with a heat-transfer liquid. With the assistance of energy-efficient pumps, heat is transferred to the ground in the summer, and transferred to the hotel in the winter.
The Alt Hotel, a Green Key certified hotel with 4 keys, is located in downtown St. John’s overlooking the harbour. This hotel has geothermal heating and cooling powered by the ocean (instead of ground temperature). Closed-loop ocean geothermal systems is another alternative for coastal hotels.
Building owners can realize cost savings over the long-term use of geo-exchange and cut energy bills by 35-50%. Geo-exchange systems have a high up-front cost (approx. $2,500-$5,000 per installed kW), and low maintenance or operational cost (approx. $0.01-$0.03 per kWh)2.
Instead of fronting the capital costs of the system, hotels may enter into a Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) with a utility provider or renewable energy company for a long-term (20-30 years) contract for the energy supply. The energy provider owns and operates the geo-exchange system, effectively becoming a mini-utility that sells energy to the hotel at an agreed upon rate. This gives the hotel predictable energy costs, and ultra low-emission energy source, without the need to front hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.
Instead of natural gas, propane or gasoline, consider installing fireplaces that can use biomass or biofuel. Wood is technically a type of “biomass”, but there are more sustainable products than raw wood. Consider using bio-briquettes (such as Bioflame) made from waste product from the forestry industry. Biofuel fireplaces, such as EcoSmart Fire models use renewable ethanol fuel made from waste agriculture products instead of fossil fuels.
If your hotel uses natural gas, inquire about renewable natural gas (RNG)available from your supplier. RNG is becoming more widely available and usually comes with a cost premium of 15-30%. Though it doesn’t typically generate a return on investment, hotels that use natural gas for heating can reduce the carbon footprint of a hotel by 30-60% by switching to RNG.
Wind energy is another common renewable energy solution, but it is less common in hotels, unless the hotel is located on a large piece of land. Smaller wind units are difficult to get a return on investment for the cost to install.
On-site renewable energy will have the biggest impact for hotels on energy grids that are high-carbon and fueled by coal or natural gas. Target areas of your hotel that have the greatest carbon footprint and fossil fuel use and make a smart investment in a practical renewable energy solution with a decent return.
Renewable energy technologies are becoming more affordable and widely available. Invest in solutions that fit your operations and garner the biggest “bang for your buck” in emission reductions.
- Moment Energy. Jan 2022. https://www.momentenergy.ca/
- US Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, Geothermal Technologies Office. Jan 2022. https://www.energy.gov/eere/geothermal/geothermal-faqs#geothermal_energy_cost