Mr. Gieselman


Why Energy Efficiency is More Important Than Ever

By James Gieselman, Principal, Emeritus Consulting, LLC


The generally accepted definition of sustainable operations is our using of resources such that we meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Certainly energy is chief among those resources that we are encouraged to use sustainably. In an article by Climate Progress, Why Energy Efficiency Is The Most Important Fuel We Didn't Know We Had (Sept, 2014), the author begins by pointing out that "energy efficiency has graduated from the 'hidden fuel' to the 'first fuel.'" His meaning should be clear: while energy efficiency has played an important role in the past, its value to society has been severely under-appreciated. Its importance has been underestimated as well. An earlier McKinsey report notes that through energy efficiency improvements alone the United States could meet its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by the year 2020. Energy efficiency, then, should be regarded as a primary vehicle on the road toward sustainability.

Step up to the Plate

How does one begin the quest for energy efficiency? The very first step is to determine how far behind the efficiency curve your property really is. (You may discover that you're actually ahead of the pack.) The best metric for determining where you stand is your hotel's energy use intensity (EUI). This is simply a measure of how much total energy your property used per square foot over the course of a year. The units in the United States are kBtu per square foot per year; overseas it is typically kWh per square meter per year. The U.S. EPA estimates that the median EUI for domestic hotels is 187 kBtu/sf/yr. Obviously there is much built into this number: location, property size, hotel type, laundry on site, indoor pool, etc. All of these variables have an effect on energy consumption, so using only this metric absent any qualifiers isn't optimum. Rather, using a tool like the EPA's Energy Star Portfolio Manager will take into consideration those parameters and others to measure your energy consumption on an equal footing with other hotels. Today over 10,000 hotels use Portfolio Manager's benchmarking function.

Having determined where you rank among your peer properties you can now start the process by developing a plan. The plan can be as simple or as detailed as you need it to be, but it should set forth at least these guidelines:

  1. A goal - measured in EUI reduction or in Energy Star score improvement
  2. A timeline - how long your team has to reach the goal
  3. A champion - who is in charge of this effort and what his/her authority is
  4. An assessment method - a determination of who will assess the property for energy reduction opportunities and the methods to be used (energy audit, retrocommissioning, ongoing commissioning software, etc.)
  5. A method of implementation - how approved energy projects will be executed.
  6. A progress report - a way of keeping track of the savings the energy projects are generating.

There are two ways to increase a property's energy efficiency. The first is to replace old, inefficient technology with new higher efficiency gear. This could pertain to virtually any energy consuming device. These changes in infrastructure (requiring capital spending) can be expensive and have small returns on their investments, but some, like lighting retrofits, can produce excellent paybacks. In either case, the energy savings gained are locked in for the life of the equipment. The second method of boosting efficiency comes through changes in operations, sometimes referred to as retro-commissioning. This process works with your existing equipment, looking to improve energy consumption through more efficient operating strategies. Usually the cost to perform retro-commissioning and to execute the resulting projects is far less expensive than equipment replacement and generates excellent ROIs. But energy savings garnered here are typically not permanent and may diminish over time. These projects are often referred to as low cost / no cost projects because they often only require the changing of set points.

Equipment replacement is fairly straightforward, but retro-commissioning requires some additional explanation. Today's full service hotels have complex systems providing cooling, heating, domestic hot water, and ventilation. These systems have multiple components that must work in concert to deliver the proper benefit. One piece of gear operating out of sync can affect the operation of the others. When this happens the system as a whole begins to draw more energy because it no longer is operating at its design conditions. Retro-commissioning looks for these anomalies and resets those parameters to the best (energy saving) set point. The more complex the system, the more opportunities retro-commissioning will uncover.

Energy conscious hotel companies across the country have embarked on energy programs similar to that described above. Some of their experiences are detailed here (in baseball terms).

Planning to Win (Home Run)

After a number of years of tracking energy consumption, a luxury hotel company decided to look for ways to increase their energy savings beyond their monitoring efforts. They discussed their options both internally with staff and externally with consultants. The resultant plan was ambitious given the company's reputation for impeccable guest service. It called for a reduction in energy consumption of 9% over a three year period, the establishment of an appropriate baseline year, and a method of achieving these goals over the entire portfolio.

Due to the size of the corporate engineering staff, the company outsourced management of this undertaking to an outside consultant. The consultant became responsible for the hotel assessments (energy audits and retro-commissioning), the reporting functions, and various internal programs to help align company employees with this effort.

The results were outstanding. After three years the program had saved over 13% - some 46% above plan. The average reduction in EUI was 17 kBtu/sf/year at each property resulting in average energy cost savings of over $160,000 per hotel annually, driven in part by the completion of over 400 energy projects. But it all started with the foresight to draw up an excellent plan that top management fully embraced and the employees could easily buy into.

Spend Money to Make Money (Triple)

A hotel company that owns both full service and select service properties undertook a similar energy strategy initiating energy audits at a number of its hotels. They were interested in finding lighting opportunities as well as low cost / no cost mechanical energy conservation measures (ECMs). Their properties typically had compact fluorescent lamps in their down lights and chandeliers and 25 or 28 watt linear fluorescent T-8 lamps in ceiling fixtures in back of house areas. In two of the hotels the audits turned up 19 separate lighting ECMs. To date the company has implemented all of those, replacing the existing fluorescent lamps with more energy efficient LED lamps. The result: over 800,000 kWh saved annually; over $86,000 in energy cost savings; less than 2 year payback.

Spend Money to Make Money 2 (Single)

The same company has a hotel in a tropical climate. The central HVAC system, with aging equipment, struggles to maintain set points in the heat of the summer. It also has an EUI of 154 kBtu/sf/yr - high for a warm weather location. The audit revealed that their room thermostats were basic on/off digital types with no ability to reset room temperatures when the rooms were unoccupied. A more advanced room thermostat with the ability to sense occupancy will save the hotel almost 250,000 kWh annually. This type of controller, available from several vendors, has an infrared sensor to detect people in the room and also ties into a front door switch to complete the unoccupied logic sequence. Result: the property has deferred this project to the next Capex year but when executed it will save approximately $21,000 annually at this 200 room hotel leading to a four year payback.

Save the Best for Last

When talking energy saving ideas, truly the measures resulting from retro-commissioning are the best. They often require little or no effort (or dollars) to accomplish. All you have to do is find them. How? By again listening to Yogi's advice: "You can observe a lot by just watching." Retro-commissioning is an investigative process that requires a little time and a lot of expertise. Here is a list of retro-commissioning hits - singles, doubles, triples, and even a home run - that I've seen over the past several years.

Too Much Pressure (Single)

Larger hotels with common areas and meeting space typically have HVAC systems that deliver varying amounts of air to cool those spaces. These are controlled by pressure sensors and often the set points of these pressure controllers is set far too high. The result is a system that's working harder than it should, chewing up more energy for no benefit. Savings can be in the range of 50,000 to 75,000 kWh per year per air handler.

Squeeze Play (Double)

Large chilled water systems always offer great potential for energy savings due simply to their many moving parts. One of those parts is the condenser water pump. Generally each chiller has a dedicated condenser pump that circulates cooling water between the chiller and the cooling tower. Often these pumps are over sized thanks to an over-cautious system designer. When this happens the system can only maintain proper flow by partially shutting the balancing valve on the pump discharge, thereby adding unnecessary pressure drop to the system and adding even more unnecessary energy expense against the hotel's bottom line.

Strike Out (Triple)

Conditioning outside air for ventilation is expensive regardless of where your property is located. So it's critical that outside air systems run efficiently at all times. Ventilation air is typically provided to the common areas through air handling units equipped with economizers, or free cooling cycles. This control cycle senses when cool outdoor air can be used to condition a space instead of having to rely on mechanical cooling. When working correctly it provides virtually free cooling. But when it isn't working properly your system is consuming energy unnecessarily. Things that can go wrong with your economizers: sticking damper, bad damper actuator, incorrect setpoint, bad sensor, dropped linkage, and more.

Bringing the Heat (Grand Slam)

A luxury hotel had installed a complex co-generation system that used micro turbines to generate electricity while using the waste heat in an absorption machine to generate chilled water and more cooling capacity. That was a good plan which saved the hotel money. But it wasn't the greatest plan as it didn't address the property's heating needs which were far greater than those on the cooling side. Through a retro-commissioning process it was determined that one of the four turbines could be taken off the absorber and used to generate hot water for the building. The loss of cooling capacity amounted to only 25 tons (out of 500), but the heat recovered was enough to virtually shut down the need for expensive district steam. The result: over $100,000 in energy cost savings annually with a payback of less than one year.

These are examples of just a few of the many ways you can affect your hotel's energy efficiency and boost your sustainability quotient in the process. Most of the findings are singles and doubles, but as we all know, it doesn't take home runs to win a game. But sustainable operations are something that you have to work on every day. It ain't over till it's over.

James ‘Jim’ Gieselman’s broad experience of over 40 plus years enables him to understand the intricacies of hotel HVAC and lighting system operations, because understanding is the key to delivering true energy opportunities to hotel clients. His areas of expertise center on his systems knowledge of hotel infrastructure, especially HVAC, and how they should operate. Through building energy assessments (audits) and retro-commissioning, Jim identifies and quantifies energy inefficiencies and delivers practical solutions. Mr. Gielsman offers no-nonsense answers to the many challenges facing hotel owners and operators today. He brings a long history of successful building assessments and is a certified Building Energy Assessor. Mr. Gieselman can be contacted at 770-367-6096 or jim@emeritusllc.com Please visit www.emeritusllc.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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