In the past decade people started to acknowledge that hotels are not in all aspects a blessing for the local population and eco system. More recently, we also started to understand what impact traveling has on the ecological systems and global warming. Where ECO tourism and sustainable tourism have much in common, sustainable tourism also considers the social impact on the area where the facility settles down. But, historically there are many ECO resorts with excellent social programs who could consider changing tags.
Has sustainable tourism only a local impact? In most cases sustainable hotels and resorts concentrate on how they impact the local community in particular and the country in general. They are called sustainable hotels/resorts/lodges or sustainable destinations if there are more of them in an area or country. Add the impact of the travel to the destination and we have sustainable tourism. Is green energy a viable option for hotels? In most Western countries one can chose to buy green energy. That option is not available in the Caribbean. Consequently the only way is to generate electricity. While there are many forms of green energy (please refer to: my article Green Energy Options in the Caribbean) we will only discuss wind and solar power as these are the most obvious ones.
Paradise Bay installed a 80 kW windmill with an expected yearly yield of 180,000 kWh. It is the first utility-grade windmill installed in Caricom and we could not find any resort that already installed a windmill, although there are several with plans and one under construction. With an estimated yearly power use of 120,000 kWh the resort will be better than zero carbon, once the connection to the mains is realized, as the remainder of the energy is sold to the local electricity company. In our case it was feasible to place a windmill because of the direct position towards the wind, while the windmill could be placed in a backward location, non-intrusive for the guests. We only get positive reactions about the windmill.
A company from the Netherlands (www.mainwind.nl) recognized this gap and delivers solutions in the form of used mid-range windmills (250-750 kW) that come from upgraded wind parks. The need for upgrading is obvious; it is most easy to increase capacity to the now current technology (2 – 3MW) at already existing wind parks. The smaller windmills are taking down, completely revised (reconditioned) and are sold with an as-new warranty and optionally with a 15 year all-inclusive maintenance contract. The cost per kWh is competitive with larger windmills, typically between 7-9 US$ cents; 5-6 times lower than the mains
The price of photo-voltaic cells has come down substantially as production increased because of subsidies in the past decennia. In the Caribbean we have now reached the point where the solar cost gets close to the electricity company’s charge. This is in contrast to Western hemispheres where the cost of energy is lower and the sun is less strong.nordic-destination.com/ebeltoft/jernhatten has some nice tips on this.
Solar panels installed at hotels often supply a small part of the total energy needs and is then not much more than symbolic. But guests appreciate these efforts, so it has a marketing value. To supply a substantial part of the hotel’s energy needs is usually not feasible because of the large amount of panels needed.
Solar water heaters are an excellent way to avoid using energy and the payback time is 1 – 4 year depending on the setup. As the water use by guests differs substantially it is much more economic to put a number of solar heaters in parallel. When there are cloudy or rainy days the yield will be much lower. One approach is to dimension worst case (rain). Another way is to feed the solar heated water in the “cold” input of the electrical heater
What can hotels do to save energy? Use air conditioners with heat recovery units, which convert the heat loss into hot water. On most air conditioners this can also be installed afterwards and they can make use of traditional (electrical) water heaters which are well isolated. The installation can be performed by good air conditioning technicians. The savings will be substantial and justifiable in all cases we have seen. The reason why this is not a mainstream issue yet has to do with the much lower energy cost in the US and Europe and the rapid growth of energy cost. Solutions always lag behind the reality.
As the waste heat will produce more water than your guests will ever use, it is still very important to take energy efficient air conditioners. Generally, the energy use has been considered for bigger central systems, but the big savings are reached with the split system air conditioners on a per room base, which is customary in the Caribbean. Typical savings are 30-40% so the payback time is short.
When the guests are not in the room you don’t want to keep the air conditioning running. The traditional solution is the room key switch. When the guest leaves and takes out the key, the air conditioning switches off -or with some advanced central systems- goes to a higher temperature.
Another strong impact is door switches. When the balcony door is opened you don’t want the compressor to run. Perfectionists also switch off the air conditioner when the windows are open, but this is not always appreciated by the guests.
Refrigeration is another area where big savings can be made, especially with the smaller units such as in the guest rooms. Savings run too in the 30-40% range. Availability of energy conserving professional coolers and freezers is still limited.
Use high efficiency dish washers and washing machines with hot water connections; this has a huge impact. Most dish washing machines you have installed already have the ability to work with hot water instead of cold water (that is heated by the electrical element). So it’s just a matter of changing the installation which is an easy job. Especially for washing machines you will need to install a thermostatic valve that mixes cold water into the hot water to get the desired temperature. Energy saving lamps is the most well known form of saving energy and money and most hotels already use them. There are new developments underway that will save even more, so it’s important to keep your eyes open before you order bulbs.