Solar – the “Hot” spot for Hotels

All else being equal, which hotel would your guests prefer to stay in – a conventional one, or one with solar panels on the roof?

If you said “definitely solar,” your hotel guest is in agreement with 47 percent of the business travelers polled in Timetric’s Global Business Traveler Survey 2013, who prioritize staying at “green” hotels when traveling. With 47 percent no small share of the market, it is no wonder that sustainability is a hot trend in the hospitality industry. And when it comes to proving a company’s commitment to eco-friendliness, nothing speaks more loudly than solar. But solar is much more than simply a marketing aid.

First Steps

It is not uncommon for energy bills to amount to upward of 10 percent of gross revenue for luxury properties. For hotels looking to lower this percentage, implementing energy-saving measures, like switching to LED lighting, upgrading HVAC systems, and basic air sealing and insulation, is the first step to energy savings; the second step – installing renewable energy on site.

How Hotels Save With Solar

For most hotels, solar is the logical renewable energy choice; installation causes minimal disturbance to hotel functions, it’s completely quiet, won’t disturb guests during operation, and can provide enough power to generate a significant percentage of most hotels’ energy needs.

Payback time for a solar energy system depends on many variables. These include climate, site, energy rates and available financial incentives. Most hotel owners are able to recoup their investment in solar within 15 years, and many in five years or less. Because the technology typically carries a 20 to 25 year guarantee, and can be realistically expected to last for 30 to 40 years or more, this represents substantial long-term financial savings.

Best Solar Energy Technologies for Hotels

There is more than one type of solar energy. Most are well suited for hotel applications. Here are the most popular:

Passive Solar: A Smart Choice for New Hotel Construction

This most ancient form of solar energy means designing buildings that take advantage of the natural onsite solar heat. Through properly oriented windows, high thermal mass and passive ventilation, the sun directly warms and illuminates the building. This can result in significant energy savings compared to conventional hotel architecture. Combine passive solar design with active solar technologies and hotels can earn additional points for LEED and other sustainability certifications.

Though passive solar typically requires new construction or extensive remodeling, solar options are available for both existing as well as newly constructed hotels.

Photovoltaic Solar

The solar panels most of us are familiar with are photovoltaic, or PV panels. These convert the sun’s rays into electricity. An array of PV solar panels can be placed inconspicuously on the roof of a building, or ground mounted elsewhere on the property. Once installed, the hotel’s solar energy system is typically connected to the energy grid, allowing the hotel to supplement its solar energy with conventional grid power as needed.

One of the bright spots of solar energy is that it is generated during peak hours. The highest production of solar electricity occurs during late afternoon – often a very busy time for hotels, and definitely a time when electricity rates are at their highest. In many locations, excess energy generated during this time can be sold back to the grid at peak rates.

Solar Water Heating

Solar water heating technology can reduce the cost of supplying a hotel’s hot water by as much as two-thirds, providing ample heat for showers, swimming pools and food service. Nearly every hotel uses a lot of hot water, and depending on location, a hotel solar water heater can pay for itself in as little as one and a half to two years.

Getting Started With Solar

No matter what type of solar energy a hotelier chooses to install, it is a good idea to contact a certified solar energy professional to conduct a cost benefit analysis. This expert will assess the property for solar suitability and recommend the type of solar energy that will provide the greatest benefits and ROI. He will also help the property owner take advantage of available financial incentives.  For most hotels, solar represents a smart investment!

Ryan McNeill is the president of Renewable Energy Corporation, a Maryland based solar company that specializes in the installation of solar panels, solar water heaters, and solar attic fans.

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