Hoteliers are using geothermal and solar energy as alternative sources to heat, cool and light hotels.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Hoteliers are adopting alternative energy sources in an attempt to make properties more green and save on energy costs in the long run.
Geothermal and solar power are the latest resources hotel developers are tapping as part of these efforts. The key to making these systems profitable, sources said, is doing your homework and having performance goals in mind.
Christopher Noble, president of C.M.Noble & Associates, a real estate development, advisory and consultant group that works with Smart Hotels Group—which developed the recently opened The Hotel at Oberlin in Oberlin, Ohio—said the property was built with geothermal energy in mind.
“In Oberlin, our target from an energy and sustainability standpoint was to hit LEED Platinum (certification),” he said. “So in order to hit LEED Platinum, we knew that we really had to tie ourselves to a geothermal system because we really felt, and our engineers really felt, that was going to be the most efficient way for us to achieve our energy targets.”
The Hotel at Oberlin is located on the Oberlin College campus, and Smart Hotels Group is known for its development of sustainable campus hotels. The company designs and builds hotels that are operated as green buildings, and Smart Hotels Group has experience in historic preservation and LEED certification.
A closer look at geothermal
The Hotel at Oberlin has a geothermal loop that’s tied to fully radiant hydronic systems on the interior of the building, Noble said.
“All of our systems within the hotel rooms and the building itself are hydronic radiant, so that means there are no forced air systems,” he said. “That means that within the guestroom, there is a radiant panel that is affixed to the ceiling, and that radiant panel, when it’s cold outside, gets warm and provides heat for the space.
“When it’s warm outside, that radiant panel gets cold by either having cold water circulate through it or hot water circulate through it that is then tied back to the geothermal well field,” he said.
Noble said the hydronic radiant systems in turn serve to make the property hypoallergenic because “there is no indoor air building sickness kind of system, and it’s completely silent because there is no air blowing on you, and a machine in the corner isn’t cycling on and off at night while you’re trying to sleep.”
He said construction costs for installing geothermal are not cheap, but the group expects the hotel will save on energy savings over time.
“We haven’t done geothermal elsewhere, and … it’s costly from a first cost standpoint, there’s no question about that,” Noble said. “We think this is the type of technology we would like to explore and consider utilizing in the future, so part of this is a bit of an experiment to see how efficient the systems are and will be, and what the performance will be.”
Geothermal at Peppermill Resort Spa Casino
Dean Parker, executive facilities director at the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino in Reno, Nevada, said the hotel took a run at the use of geothermal technology in the early 1980s.
“We had a shallow well in the early ‘80s and we didn’t really do anything with that energy,” he said. “And when I say shallow well, it was about 1,000 feet deep, and the water temperature ranged to about 127 degrees. We used it to heat a small outside pool and a small outer building in the early ‘80s and ‘90s, and then we kind of just capped it off.”
Between 2005 and 2009, the Peppermill underwent an expansion in which the hotel was nearly doubled in size from 1.1 million square feet to 2.1 million square feet. Parker said the facilities crew started looking at ways to use renewable energy to heat and cool existing structures and structures that were added during the expansion.
“We did a feasibility (analysis) of, ‘what happens if we (drill) deeper?’ In 2007 and 2008,” he said. “And ownership approved that, so we spent approximately $6.5 million to drill a deep well, and when I say deep, it’s 4,421 feet deep. Going that deep, we were able to bring up 175-degree geothermal fluids.”
The resort sits on about 48 acres of land, Parker said, and the geothermal production well is located approximately 1,200 feet away from the well that houses renewable geothermal fluids. The geothermal technology replaced all natural gas boilers on the property.
“We paid approximately $6.5 million to … drill it, install it and get it operational, and it saved me, by shutting the boilers down, $2.6 million in natural gas therms, and $2.2 million in (producing) natural gas,” he said. “It had a rate of return in less than three years, which is very impressive.”
Parker said maintaining geothermal energy sources is less expensive than maintaining boilers.
The Phoenician hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona, uses solar energy as an electrical source, according to Brian Wiley, director of technical services at The Phoenician.
“It was a win-win for the resort,” he said via email. “First, it allowed us to expand our commitment to sustainability by incorporating renewable energy into our operations, reducing our electrical demand. Second, it provided shading for the top levels of three guest parking structures on property, which is especially important during the hot desert summer months.”
Wiley said solar panels at the property produce 568 kilowatts of direct current and 460 kilowatts of alternating current. There are 712 280-watt modules installed on property and 1,230 300-watt modules, he said. Wiley was unable to give a price estimate for installation.
“As of today, there are no recognized (energy) savings. The short-term expenditures are consistent with current energy costs, (but) the real savings will be seen in future years as electric prices continue to grow,” he said. “We have a lock cost per kilowatt hour that provides long-term operational savings for the resort.
“From an environmental standpoint, we are reducing our carbon-based emissions, the equivalent of removing 140 cars from the road. This clean energy is also powering the equivalent of 90 homes.”
Parker said the Peppermill is considering incorporating solar energy into its sustainability efforts, but he doesn’t think the property “will ever go solar.”
“(Solar) is getting cheaper, but right now, solar isn’t really feasible for us because to generate one megawatt (of electricity,) I’d have to install almost 5,000 solar panels,” he said. “I’d have solar panels all over the place, and they’re not really attractive.”
He said wind power is not an option for the Peppermill because there’s no way to return on it.
“But I am looking to go even deeper with geothermal, getting even hotter water, and hopefully, if that happens, we’d put in binary generators, which could produce electricity from geothermal fluids.”