It is interesting when the New York Times has an article explaining how US hotels should follow good practice in Europe. Erica Goode writes a good article describing the latest developments. If you’re staying in an American hotel, let us know your experience.
At Energy-Minded U.S. Hotels, They’ll Turn the Lights Off for You
At the Palazzo Navona, a boutique hotel named for the famous piazza here, guests must place a room key into a slot on the wall to activate the lights and temperature control system in their rooms.
The Palazzo’s use of the key card device is not unusual in Europe or in other parts of the world, like Asia. Even in countries like Norway where electricity is relatively inexpensive, many hotels use them to reduce energy costs.
American hotels have long resisted key cards or other energy-saving systems. Energy was cheap, and hoteliers feared that guests, who routinely left their rooms with the lights and air-conditioner on, would see any check on their energy use as an inconvenience.
Hotel guests “have a feeling that they paid for the space and they can use it freely, and there’s a natural tendency not to be too conscious of their energy use,” said Brian Carberry, a director of product management for Leviton Manufacturing Company, of Melville, N.Y., which makes key card switches and other energy-saving devices for hotels.
But the aversion of hoteliers in the United States is slowly shifting as Americans have become more energy conscious and more states and municipalities have adopted rigorous building codes for energy use.
In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, 29 percent of hotels surveyed by the American Hotel and Lodging Association had a sensor system in guest rooms to control the temperature, compared with less than 20 percent in 2004; and more than 75 percent had switched to LED lighting, up from less than 20 percent. Other energy-saving measures had also been more widely adopted.
According to the World Tourism Organization, an arm of the United Nations, tourism has a significant impact on climate change, accounting for about 5 percent of the carbon dioxide released globally into the atmosphere. That is 3 percent from airline travel, but the remaining 2 percent from accommodations and local travel, said Zoritsa Urosevic, the organization’s representative to the United Nations at Geneva, in charge of its liaison office.
Energy costs typically represent 4 to 6 percent of a hotel’s overall operating expenses, with the largest share for heating and air-conditioning.
As a result, Ms. Urosevic said, the potential for savings in carbon reduction and expenses for hotel companies is “huge.” The organization works with European tourism agencies in a project called Hotel Energy Solutions, which on its website offers educational videos, fact sheets on key cards and other energy-saving devices and a calculator to help small and midsize hotels in Europe assess their carbon footprint.
Many major hotels in the United States have digitally controlled thermostats to monitor the temperature in guest rooms, said Pat Maher, a retired Marriott executive who is a consultant to hotels on energy management.
And a growing number, he said, have installed sophisticated systems that sense when a room is occupied. When a hotel guest enters a room, the device allows the temperature to be manually controlled within a certain range — from 60 to 80 degrees, for example — and then sets it back into an energy-saving mode when the room is vacant again.
Mr. Maher said such a system could save a hotel 20 percent or more in energy costs. And many utility companies, he noted, now offer rebates to hotels that have installed digital thermostats and other energy management devices.
But key cards have still not caught on in the United States and are unlikely to do so, Mr. Maher said. Some guests complain about the systems and the technology is rapidly becoming obsolete, he added.
Besides, he said, hotel keys themselves are likely to disappear soon, replaced by systems that offer more security for guest rooms.
“You won’t see a key card in about four years, they’ll be gone,” Mr. Maher said, replaced by controls operated from a guest’s smartphone.
Still, for some independently run hotels, especially those housed in older buildings, key card-based light and temperature controls appear to be an increasingly appealing alternative.
“Key card switches are very effective and relatively low cost,” said Tom Leonard, vice president of marketing and product management for the Leviton division that makes energy management products. The company’s sales of the switches, he and Mr. Carberry said, have risen by 25 to 30 percent in the last two years, the increase driven primarily by energy efficiency standards like California’s Title 24.
The key card systems allow hotels to select which circuits are controlled by the devices. And in most cases, the switches are programmed with a delay, keeping the lights on for a brief grace period after the key has been removed from the slot.
BD Hotels installed key card switches in three of its boutique hotels in New York several years ago, including the Jane, in the West Village, and the Ludlow, on the Lower East Side, said Dr. Richard Born, a principal owner. So far, Dr. Born said, they have had no complaints from guests, but he added, “We cater to a different clientele than a Marriott Courtyard.”
At the Aqua Aloha Surf Waikiki and the Aqua Bamboo Waikiki hotels in Hawaii, key card systems were put in as part of an overall energy savings initiative, said David Crouch, senior director of operations at Aqua-Aston Hospitality, which manages the hotels.
“The savings are tremendous,” Mr. Crouch said.
But he agreed that key cards are far from perfect. They are not well suited to extreme climates, Mr. Crouch said, and were unpopular in the hotel group’s property in Las Vegas, where temperatures can reach 110 degrees in the summer and the prospect of returning to a boiling hot room was less than appealing to guests.
Brian McGuinnes, senior vice president of Starwood’s specialty select brand, which includes the Element line of “green” hotels, said that his company decided not to install key cards because the technology is changing so quickly.
“We don’t want to be caught in a Beta versus VCR moment,” he said.
The card systems can also be easily gamed by placing an extra room key in the wall slot to keep the lights or air-conditioning on, even when the room is vacant.
“You need to take the guest out of the equation,” said Tom Woodruff, general manager of Honeywell’s Inncom product line, which manufactures an occupancy-sensing digital temperature control system.
Newer technologies have done that, shifting energy use so subtly that a guest may not even be aware of the difference. And even hoteliers who place guest satisfaction well ahead conservation may be persuaded to act to reduce their energy use.
“Energy is just going to go up in cost and up in environmental impact,” Mr. Leonard said. “I would be very surprised if the energy codes we see in California don’t expand across the nation.”