California Hotel & Lodging Association Enewsletter
Putting Energy into Hotel Savings
Sunstone Implements Impressive Energy Savings across Its Portfolio

Less is more. And nowhere is that principle more prophetic than in energy use and its correlated cost. This is particularly true for the hotel industry, where energy use is a significant, recurring expense. As a result, energy-savings programs are worth their weight in gold, almost literally. So when Sunstone Hotel Investors, Inc. instituted an energy-savings program across its hotel portfolio, they knew it would have an impact. What they may not have realized, however, is that their program would blaze a trail for energy savings in the hotel industry.

Working in close partnership with Willdan, a national provider of specialized energy, water, and resource management services, Sunstone implemented energy-saving strategies that resulted in significant energy and cost reductions across their portfolio. How did they achieve that?

Beginning in 2011, Willdan audited 19 of Sunstone’s properties across 10 states, deploying mechanical engineers to evaluate all energy consumers within each property.  The schedule was compressed significantly and there was a key focus on identifying available monetary incentives from respective local utilities. As part of the program, Willdan conducted a study at a pilot property, which then implemented an intelligent occupancy-based controls system for heating, ventilation, and air condition (HVAC).  Sunstone also targeted measures that could be repeated across the portfolio to take advantage of bulk-purchasing economics.

Sunstone also implemented comprehensive lighting projects, targeting LEDs for common areas and low wattage linear fluorescents for back of house; these provided significant kWh savings as well as lowered peak demand usage. In performing the audits, Willdan was sensitive to the brand requirements and complexities of individual properties. Because Sunstone’s portfolio contains many brands, recommendations had to address the unique requirements.

The Hilton San Diego Bayfront features a 30-story tower with 1,190 guest rooms and more than 165,000 square feet of meeting space. The hotel worked closely with Willdan to implement comprehensive upgrades and automation to the property’s HVAC systems including an updated building management system and installation of an INNCOM system (a guestroom occupancy-based HVAC control system). In addition, the energy-focused effort included improvements in comprehensive LED lighting and lighting occupancy controls throughout the property, as well as high-efficiency hot water heaters and an aqua recycle system for the laundry. The results were impressive.

In 2013, the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel’s installed measures and technology resulted in energy savings of over 2,545,000 kWh (electricity) and 24,700 therms (gas). That is a 15.4 percent reduction in electricity and a 13.9 percent electricity cost savings. In other terms, that is the savings equivalent of 305 passenger vehicles or 1,463 metric tons of CO2 removed from the environment. For gas, it was a 12.2 percent reduction and an 11.5 percent cost savings. In the same environmental terms, that equals 96 passenger vehicles and 459 metric tons of CO2. In addition, the hotel also received $167,600 in incentives through San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) Lodging Energy Efficiency Program (LEEP) which helped to offset project implementation costs.

But the Hilton San Diego Bayfront is not alone in celebrating these savings. Recently, SDG&E recognized 10 local business customers as Energy Champions for their outstanding results in energy efficiency and conservation with their 9th Annual Energy Showcase. The Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel won in the Hospitality category. But SDG&E didn’t stop there. Wanting to illuminate its customers on potential hospitality savings, they created a case study and video featuring the energy-saving efforts at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel.

Without question, the energy and cost savings were significant. But the hotel achieved some of these savings through very specific industry experience. For example, the hotel team structured the water-reclamation system upgrade so that available rebates were deducted from the vendor’s fee, rather than have the collection responsibility remain with the hotel, reducing upfront costs. Thermostat installation presented another opportunity.

The hotel wanted to better position in-room thermostats. Doing this for one thousand rooms is a costly endeavor. However, because the hotel was installing new energy-efficient thermostats, they struck a deal with the vendor to install the new thermostats in the optimum position and patch and paint where the old thermostat had been removed. Though seemingly small, these strategies add up to significant efficiencies.

Willdan senior vice president Paul Whitelaw believes lodging facilities can achieve significant savings by undergoing this process. 

“Lodging facilities are some of the nation’s most substantial energy and water users. From energy used to provide heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), to lighting (most of which operates 24x7x365 in a hotel), to water heating, kitchen hood ventilation, and laundry processing, lodging facilities present numerous focus areas for potential savings. Implementing savings strategies in these areas is no small advantage. In the case of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel, they proved to be substantial. And the Hilton San Diego Bayfront enjoyed some of the greatest energy and cost savings in SDG&E’s 2013 Lodging Energy Efficiency Program (LEEP).

“LEEP is a fantastic program that helps owners achieve those savings by recommending replacements and/or optimizing equipment, systems, and methodology. Though there may be some upfront costs in installing these energy-saving strategies, they pay for themselves very quickly. And with rebates and incentives, even those costs can be offset. So these efforts benefit everyone involved. But these kinds of programs and incentives exist throughout the country. They are there waiting for lodging facilities to take advantage of them. The benefits are eye opening, and the process is relatively painless and inexpensive.”

Less is more. And nowhere is that principle more prophetic than in energy use and its correlated costs for lodging facilities. But those costs can be contained, even reduced. Through energy-saving programs like those created for Sunstone Hotel Investors, hotel portfolios are achieving extraordinary energy savings.

Arthur Schurr is a New York-based writer who reports on infrastructure trends.

Photography © John Livzey.