Net zero carbon hotels: Making hotels of the future a reality today

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Net-Zero Carbon

The global tourism industry is expected to rebound to pre-COVID levels by 2023. This is great news for the industry, but bad news for the planet. Why? Because hotels have the highest energy intensity of all commercial real estate classes. An increasing number of hotel guests care about the green profile of the hotels they choose, which affects bookings as well as asset value. To retain a competitive edge and support global emissions targets by 2050, all existing hotel stock must begin transitioning to net zero carbon.

Schneider Electric, along with global hospitality leader IHG and internationally recognized cost consultant Gleeds, have contributed to a new research paper authored by the leading global design and consulting firm Arup. Arup explains, “This white paper tackles the net zero carbon challenge for existing hotels, using a real-life case study to demonstrate the impact of each stage in the journey. It sets out a high-level framework, prioritizing different interventions throughout the lifecycle.”

As there are very few resources currently available to help investors choose the best approach and calculate the financial investment required for their hotels to reach net zero, we feel the novel research presented in this paper will offer valuable and actionable guidance.

What is a net zero carbon hotel?

The Arup paper explains why hotels play such an important role in helping the globe meet the targets set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The paper notes that the “Sustainable Hospitality Alliance found that the hotel industry needs to reduce its carbon emissions by 66% per room by 2030, and by 90% per room by 2050.”

The paper also offers a detailed definition for net zero carbon buildings which, based on the framework set out by the UK Green Building Council, comprises three aspects of emissions: operational energy, construction (‘embodied’ carbon), and whole-life carbon (including disposal).

A test case in sustainability

The research project used a typical holiday hotel in the UK as a test case, to explore opportunities to decarbonize and optimize operational energy toward achieving net zero carbon emissions in operation, while still delivering on guest comfort, and balancing operational savings with the costs of interventions. The ultimate goal was to develop a general logic and methodology that is transferrable to other hotels.

The research team first built a dynamic thermal model of the hotel, calibrating the model using real metered energy data. They then used the model to assess different types of interventions based on their potential to reduce carbon and their economic viability.

With energy consumption typically representing up to 6% of a hotel’s operational costs, but around 60% of emissions, there is a big opportunity to improve efficiencies. With that in mind, the research primarily focuses on reducing operational energy, but also considers the embodied carbon impact of interventions. As Arup notes, “Reducing energy consumption is the best way to achieving net zero carbon in operation, alongside transitioning away from fossil fuels.”

Hotels of the Future: Focusing on the best opportunities

The paper investigates several key aspects of hotels affecting sustainability, including energy use and sources, building envelope (e.g. walls, windows, roofs, and floors), and services (e.g. catering, laundry, gyms, and pools).

The project first sets the scope of net zero for the hotel, considering how far and how fast, as well as annual suggested targets for UK hotels. The paper then explains how required data was gathered, including lifecycle timelines for equipment, and then plots a path to the target. To set the required performance baseline, steps were taken to understand how and when energy is used, revealing the largest consumers.

The paper then goes on to discuss the major categories of actions investigated, each section detailing potential carbon reduction and cost savings:

  1. Control and monitor – The team shows how optimizing operations (e.g. how rooms are booked, schedule of heating and cooling, etc.) is the most cost-effective and easiest way to reduce consumption and cut carbon, resulting in a potential 19% savings.
  2. Passive measures – This involves improving the thermal performance of the building fabric.
  3. Active measures – This includes electrification of loads, e.g. switching from gas-powered heating equipment to lower-carbon electricity, as well as upgrades like heat pumps, etc.
  4. Transition to low carbon energy – Generating renewable energy on-site can help reduce carbon footprint, save costs, and help decarbonize the national grid by shifting demand.
  5. Certified offsets – This involves sourcing quality certified offsets for what remains.
  6. Embodied carbon – Beyond achieving net zero carbon by optimizing operations and upgrading, this step considers how refurbishment compares with total replacement in terms of embodied carbon.

Embracing these potential actions for carbon reduction, hotels of the future will use more autonomous and proactive approaches to achieving their sustainability, operational, and guest satisfaction goals over the entire life cycle of their property assets.  To learn more, download the white paper “Transforming Existing Hotels to Net Zero Carbon.” Also discover how EcoStruxure for Hotels solutions and the EcoStruxure Connected Room Solutions for Hotels can help hotel owners further reach their sustainability, efficiency, resilience, and people-centric goals.

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  • Simon Firth

    3 years ago

    Hotels are also a great contender to use the latest Energy Valve technology too (see Schneider Electric product: SP90). With HVAC being a huge portion of the hotels energy usage, the savings these energy valves can provide make them an obvious choice over traditional products used today.

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