Technology can help businesses to manage and improve their energy consumption in order to operate in a more sustainable way. Ross Bentley reports on three examples.
Managers at the Radisson Blu hotel on Portman Square in central London are using wireless technologies to help analyse and control energy consumption in the 272-bedroom, four-star property.
Working with Intelligent Resource Management, a specialist hospitality energy management consultancy, they are hoping the devices will enable them to run more efficiently while also cutting down the hotel's £40,000 per month electricity bill.
For the past two months, they have had clamp devices attached to electricity cables running from the condensing units on the roof, which each provide power for the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning of eight rooms. These collect data on electricity consumption and send it via a standard GSM network - Vodafone - to a secure web portal which displays the information as a real-time graph.
According to general manager Tim Cordon, this allows him and his engineers to analyse the use of electricity in a certain part of the property by time of day or day of the week.
"Understanding the patterns in your energy consumption is central to managing it efficiently," he says. "With the clamps we can drill down and identify where the energy hotspots are and how this is affected by occupancy levels and times of the day.
"We may be able to use it to incentivise staff to reduce their energy consumption in the future."
In two of the guest rooms, Cordon is also trialling passive infrared movement sensors (PIRS), designed to detect when they are empty because there is no movement. At this point, heating and air-conditioning levels are adjusted to a default setting to keep energy usage to a minimum whenever possible.
Additional sensors detect when a window is open - rendering cooling and heating systems futile - and again switch room systems to default settings.
Cordon says the unintrusive sensors are controlled through the ZigBee protocol - a low-power digital signal - so are easy to fit and of little inconvenience to guests.
"Being able to retro-fit the wireless devices gets around a lot of problems associated with making adjustments to an older legacy building," he adds.
Managing director of Intelligent Resource Management Mark Sait says it typically costs £200 to kit out a hotel room with the devices and estimates a pay back within 36 months.
But Cordon feels it is a cost many hotels may have to absorb as an increasing number of guests demand hotels prove their green credentials.
He says: "Proving we are managing our energy efficiently is a very high priority for us. We are asked about our carbon footprint regularly by customers - it is a growing issue for them."
Hospitality purchasing consortium Beacon has launched an interactive virtual hotel that allows users to tour the property online and pick up information about green products and tips on energy-saving practices.
Called Beacon Green Hotel, the website enables visitors to explore a reception area, a bedroom, a lounge, bar space and a kitchen. They can click on icons to find updates on items ranging from low-energy light bulbs and environmentally friendly chemicals for use in the bar, to green bathroom products and food produced in a sustainable way.
According to head of sales and marketing Diane Webster, the site, which was launched in May, was developed as part of Beacon's corporate social responsibility strategy (CSR). It is hoped it will become a central hub that not only educates operators but ultimately influences buying decisions.
"It's easy to come up with a simple CSR statement but we wanted to bring our values alive and get our different stakeholders involved. Any small change in purchasing behaviour can have a real impact on the environment," she says.
"We aim to give people information about where they can be more green and then, if they choose, direct them to a directory of green products in that particular area," says Webster, who believes the online world offers a much more immersive setting from which to engage people than a one-dimensional paper brochure.
"Obviously, avoiding materials going to print is also more environmentally-friendly as well," she adds. "We are also evolving our approach as we go along, so we will be able to develop and add to the site as we progress."
Webster says the virtual hotel is modelled on a typical property run by many of Beacon's 2,000-plus clients.
Beacon is also talking to the Green Tourism Business Scheme to get accreditation for the products on the site.
Contract catering firm Charlton House has worked with more than half of its 120-plus client base to install an innovative device designed to reduce energy consumption in fridges and chiller cabinets on-site.
Called the eCube, the device works by making the thermostat react to the temperature of the food in the fridge rather than the air. Typically, refrigeration units monitor the circulating air temperature, but because this temperature tends to rise quicker than that of food, the unit works harder - leading to excessive electricity consumption and undue wear and tear on the equipment.
Charlton House worked with reseller eCube Distribution to supply its clients with the product. According to eCube Distribution national sales manager Brian Goodman, the eCube contains a microcystaline wax that resembles fish in the way its temperature rises and falls. Users simply attach the device and push the thermostat into the wax.
"When fitted to the thermostat sensor, which controls the compressor, the eCube significantly reduces the frequency of the refrigeration cycles. The cycles last longer but they turn on-off less," Goodman says. As the start-up of a refrigerator compressor uses three times more power - 12 amps compared with a running usage of 4 amps - considerable energy savings of about 25-30% on average are achieved.
Goodman says the eCube, which is used by properties such as the Ramada Plaza at Gatwick and the Holiday Inn group, costs around £99 per unit for an installation of six fridges or more. "And we normally see a return on investment within nine months," he adds.
At Charlton House, managing director Caroline Fry says the idea of recommending the eCube to clients came as the company was working towards ISO 14001 accreditation, which gives a standard for environmental management.
"We were impressed with the eâ'cube in trials so started to endorse it to clients. For a relatively small outlay it offers an easy win in terms of energy saving," she says.